The Countenance Divine


Michael Hughes

First Sentence:     One Sunday morning, at the end of the twentieth century, on Brick Lane market in London, a computer programmer called Chris Davison found an odd little thing.

Back of the book: 

In 1999 a programmer is trying to fix the millennium bug, but can’t shake the sense he’s been chosen for something.

In 1888 five women are brutally murdered in the East End by a troubled young man in thrall to a mysterious master.

In 1777 an apprentice engraver called William Blake has a defining spiritual experience; thirteen years later this vision returns.

And in 1666 poet and revolutionary John Milton completes the epic for which he will be remembered centuries later.

But where does the feeling come from that the world is about to end?

Quote from the book:

He knew that any closed system left alone would eventually tend to decay. […] Just to keep things as they are, you have to constantly improve them.

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The Loney


Andrew Michael Hurley

First Sentence:     It had certainly been a wild end to the autumn.

Back of the book: 

Two brothers. One mute, the other his lifelong protector.

Year after year, their family visits the same sacred shrine on a desolate strip of coastline known as the Loney, in desperate hope of a cure.

In the long hours of waiting, the boys are left alone. And they cannot resist the causeway revealed with every turn of the treacherous tide, the old house they glimpse at its end . . .

Many years on, Hanny is a grown man no longer in need of his brother’s care.

But then the child’s body is found.

And the Loney always gives up its secrets, in the end.

Quotes from the book:

She had grown up on the north-west coast, within spitting distance of the Loney and the place still buttered the edges of her accent even though she had long since left and had lived in London for twenty years or more.

‘Leonard took a bunch of keys from his pocket and opened the door to the cellar. He went down, shaking them in his hand, turning the babies cries to screams.’

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Sea of Poppies

Amitav Ghosh

First Sentence: The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an otherwise ordinary day, but she knew instantly that the apparition was a sign of destiny for she had never seen such a vessel before, not even in a dream: how could she have, living as she did in northern Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast?

Before deciding to read this book it’s good to know that it is part of a trilogy and parts two and three of The Ibis Trilogy, as it is known, have yet to be published. What I’m saying is if you’re the type of person who needs closure in a story maybe you should wait a few years and read them all together, because on its own this book offers little in the way of closure. It is, however, incredibly engrossing. The Ibis is the ship Deeti has the vision of at the beginning of the book and eventually she will go on board this ship (after being rescued from her opium-addicted husband’s funeral pyre by the low-caste Kalua, who will accompany her on her journey). Also joining her on this voyage in the ‘Black Water’ will be; Paulette, the orphaned daughter of a French Botanist; Neel, a bankrupt raja who loses his family and everything he owns; Jodu, the son of Paulette’s wet-nurse, and many others. And that’s not even mentioning Serang Ali (leader of the deck hands [or laskars as they are known]), Ah Fatt (dishevelled Chinese opium addict), Zachary Reid (Mulatto son of a Maryland freedwoman) or any of the others already on the Ibis.  Set against the backdrop of the opium wars, opium  itself is practically seeping through every page of this epic. There is one scene which sums it up beautifully, as Deeti ponders an opium seed:

She looked at the seed as if she had never seen one before, and suddenly she knew it was not the planet above that governed her life: it was this minuscule orb – at once bountiful and all-devouring, merciful and destructive, sustaining and vengeful.

She then puts the seed in her mouth and says to Kalua:

Here[…], taste it. It is the star that took us from our homes and put us on this ship. It is the planet that rules our destiny.

Opium has, in one way or another, led them all to this place, and when all these characters are thrust together on the same ship we just know a special tale is about to unfold. Their previous lives are insignificant now that the Ibis is their home:

[…]all the old ties were immaterial now that the sea had washed away their past[…]

Yet again Deeti sums it up best when she finally lays eyes on the ship and realises:

[…] her new self, her new life, had been gestating all this while in the belly of this creature, this vessel was the Mother-Father of her new family[…] an adoptive ancestor and parent of dynasties yet to come.

This is the beginning of something epic…

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Neil Jordan

First Sentence: I had been mistaken for him so many times that when he died it was as if part of myself had died too.

I’ve never really thought of Neil Jordan as a writer before as he’s usually associated with his films, some of which I’ve enjoyed a lot more than others. This book though surprised me as I found it incredibly engaging and quite moving in places. It is a local book, so I suppose knowledge of Dublin does help heighten your enjoyment. In a way the book might suffer from this as there is literally hardly a page that goes by without some reference or other to a place or landmark in Dublin. It is clear that this is a book about the city that the author grew up in more than anything else. The story itself is concerned with Frank Thunder, a boy from the north-side who is constantly being mistaken for Gerry, a south-side boy who looks uncannily like him. This works both ways and as the cases of mistaken identity become more frequent they begin to use them to their own advantage, right through to adulthood when things take a sinister turn. This is an entertaining novel about memory, identity, and the importance of both. Definitely worth a look.

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