Tag Archives: Tuatha de Danann

Book Review Saturday – ‘A Crack in Everything’

Ruth Frances Long’s A Crack in Everything, published by O’Brien Press, is wonderfully, authentically, full-bloodedly Irish, and I really liked that aspect of it. Set in Dublin, and its faerie equivalent of Dubh Linn (pronounced ‘Dove Lin’, and literally meaning ‘Black Pool’, this is the Irish word which became the name ‘Dublin’; however, the Irish for Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath, which means ‘Town of the Fording Place’, as far as I remember – Ireland’s a complicated place, all right?), A Crack in Everything is the kind of book you can taste and smell as well as read, if you’re at all familiar with the city.

Image: rflong.com

Image: rflong.com

The story introduces us to Izzy (Isabel) Gregory, who lives with her parents in a Dublin suburb. She has friends, she is into music, she has a part-time job in a coffee shop and she loves ‘town’ – as most people who live in the Dublin area refer to the city centre. One afternoon as she strolls through the streets, she is captivated by a beautiful piece of graffiti, an angel painted on a wall (which did actually exist in reality; I often saw it myself!), but as she is sucked into the power of the image, she finds herself being assaulted. She had noticed herself being followed by someone whom she took to be a homeless man, and it is he who shoves her against the wall and steals her phone – but then, before Izzy’s eyes, he vanishes into thin air. As Izzy struggles to get her phone back, she finds herself drawn into a different world, one which exists side-by-side with the human one, but peopled with entirely different Dubliners. The ‘homeless man’ is no such thing – he is a member of the Sídhe (pronounced ‘Shee’), the fairy-folk of Irish lore and legend, and another member of the Sídhe, Jinx, comes to Izzy’s aid. Thus begins a fast-paced, emotional story which takes in the Sídhe, angels and demons, magic and myth and the fate of the universe itself – all of which hangs on Izzy’s being brave enough to face up to her true identity, her role as more than a mere teenage girl, and her ability to deal with her complicated feelings for Jinx who – as a newly-acquired voice in her head keeps telling her – cannot be trusted.

But when he keeps saving her life, and she keeps saving his, it starts to get harder and harder to believe that. And who, or what, is the voice in her head – and why is it trying to control Izzy’s body?

Dublin – and Dubh Linn – as a setting for this novel adds so much to the story. It really couldn’t have been set anywhere else. Landmarks take on new significance, and the particular streetscape of Dublin city comes alive. Alleyways and rat-runs which are familiar to me become, in this novel, doorways to the Otherworld (I always suspected as much anyway, to be honest), and it was so much fun to imagine yourself in the world of the book as you read. Even if you don’t know Dublin well, or at all, though, you can still read and enjoy this book. It’s very much set in a particular place, but the power behind it is one which anyone can relate to – the loss of loved ones, the uncovering of deeply buried family secrets, the realisation that you are not what you thought you were and that your family is not what you’ve been raised to think it is, and the shouldering of new and onerous burdens – and the twisty, complex and satisfyingly interconnected plot should satisfy any reader.

I’m not big on books with grand passions in them, so I wasn’t too bothered with Izzy and Jinx’s love story (it’s not a spoiler to say so, because it’s telegraphed from the first moment she sees him), and I did tire a bit of Jinx being described as ‘lean’ or ‘lithe’ or ‘hard-bodied’ or ‘muscular’ or whatever every three pages, but he’s an interesting and complex character, and the tattoos and piercings which are so much a part of his ‘look’ are interestingly woven into his identity, and I did like that. There were places when I felt the book could have been tightened up a little (but perhaps that’s because I primarily read children’s books, which move at a breakneck pace!) and where I felt description was overdone, but in general I enjoyed A Crack in Everything. I liked the fact that so many of the central characters are women – and powerful, kick-ass women at that – and the seamless, intelligent use of Irish myths, brought cleverly into the twenty-first century (I particularly enjoyed the use of an electric guitar as a modern-day harp). It builds well to a frenetic conclusion, and even though it is the first volume in a series its story is perfectly wrapped up and brought to a solid conclusion, while still laying the foundation for the next book.

If you’re into emotionally wrenching YA love stories, and/or mythology and folklore, and/or Ireland and its history, and/or kickass heroines, then give this book a whirl.

On Storytelling…

I’m thinking about storytelling this morning, and why we do it; I’m wondering about it because yesterday I came across another book, soon to be published, with a very similar premise to an idea I’ve been working on for a long time.  It’s not my WiP (which is a stroke of luck, sort of!) but something else I’ve written a lot of words on – something like 70,000 – and which I don’t really want to jettison out of hand.  I’m hoping there’s a nugget of story in there, something unique to me, which I can take and build on; something I can make which is different to what exists already.

I blogged recently about a similar theme – i.e. an idea which you’ve cherished and which you then see appearing in the world with a different author’s name on the cover – so I’m trying to take the positive out of it.  The positive is: I must be having good ideas.

But it’s funny, this impulse we have to tell stories, to make things up and to create plots and characters who do things, sometimes things we could or would never do ourselves.  What do we want to achieve as a result?  My ‘previous life’ as an academic who undertook research into texts and stories which were very old – as old as the language itself – means I’ve had an interest in this stuff for a long time.  Nowadays, perhaps, one of the impulses to tell stories is to achieve some sort of fame or immortality – to be remembered as a writer or a storyteller.  That’s a recent thing, in my opinion; so many of the most wonderful stories from the past are completely anonymous, including the vast majority of the medieval romances which I love so much.  I’ve often lamented the fact that we have no idea who wrote most of them, and I wish sometimes that they’d been a little more like modern writers and had thought to ‘sign’ their work.  The few ‘stars’ from the medieval period – Chaucer, Gower, Langland, Hoccleve, Malory, Marie de France (my personal heroine), among a small amount of others known only through the texts they wrote (like ‘the Gawain-poet’) – are vastly outnumbered by the writers of texts which display such skill and talent, and which are entirely free of any trace of their author.  That’s not to mention, of course, the texts which have been entirely lost; there’s no way of knowing how many are no longer in existence, what they were about, and who wrote them.  I lament, at times, for the lost hours of labour and love, sweat and toil, that went into the creation of works like these, of which no trace now remains.

The philosopher Richard Kearney once said something like: ‘We tell each other stories to tell each other who we are’.  If memory serves, he was talking about tales told around campfires by prehistoric men and women, who created the world around them every night after dark through stories and legends, but I think his insight can apply to everyone, and to every time.  In earlier ages, when the court poet (or ‘file’ in Irish) was one of the most important figures in the retinue because he knew the tribe’s history and was responsible for singing it into being, the idea of telling stories to bind a people together or, literally, tell them who they were, was vitally important.  It’s still important now.  It’s little wonder that the mythology of a country is closely guarded by its people, and why we are (or should be) very proud of our ‘national epic’; the English have the majestic Beowulf, the Finns their Kalevala, Icelanders their amazing Sagas and, in Ireland, we have our tales of the Sidhe, the Tuatha de Danann, the Firbolg, the Fomorians, Cuchulainn and Fionn MacCumhaill, among many others.  These sort of tales tell us what was important to our ancestors, what they feared and valued, the principles upon which they founded their societies.  For this reason, as well as the fact that they’re breathtaking works of art, they should be treasured by all of us.

Stories we tell can often say more about us than anything else – the kinds of characters we create betray our own fears and desires, our own loves and dreams; the kinds of situations they get into, and the means by which they make their daring escapes, tell the reader about the adventures dear to the author’s heart.  They might be seen as escapism and fantasy by a modern reader, but to earlier ‘readers’ (I should say ‘audiences’, as most early texts were, of course, recited aloud instead of read in private), they had the added thrill of being real.  When we read Beowulf now, we can caress the words describing the monster Grendel with our eyes and our minds, marvelling at the skill of the poet.  If we were listening to it around a fire in an eighth-century meadhall, we’d probably be more inclined to pull our cloak tighter around ourselves and hope desperately that tonight would not be the night that the monster would come calling.  We’d feel a greater and more passionate loyalty towards our fellow men, and a deep desire to protect our boundaries, our land, and pay homage to our king or liege-lord.  Perhaps that’s the real value of storytelling – it brings people together.  For the brief duration of the tale, every mind listening is focused on the same goal; every eye reading is in the same place, willing the characters on.  Characters, whether the irreproachable heroes of early sagas or the more fleshed-out, flawed human figures of later stories, carry the hopes and deepest desires of every human mind who has come into contact with them – including the mind that made them, and the minds who consume them.

But that’s just my two cents.  What other reasons are there for telling one another tales?  I can’t help but be influenced by my interest in the early periods of the world; has anyone any other thoughts?  Whatever stories you’re telling today, may they be good ones… Happy Tuesday to you all.