Review: The Space Between by Meg Grehan

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The Space Between

Meg Grehan

Little Island (March 2017)

YA

Beth has decided to take a year of solitude. Hidden away in her house, she lives according to a schedule, it makes her feel safe and secure. She has her own little world, and everything is under control there. Then, one day a dog called Mouse arrives at her window. Mouse brings Beth a rare and unexpected burst of joy, but it is his owner Alice who really changes Beth’s world. But Beth’s anxieties are still there, her year of seclusion rolls out, and letting someone else into her life is strange and scary.

This is a beautiful book in so many ways. The cover (designed by Paula McGloin) is gorgeous, and sets the tone for the book. The Space Between is a tender love story; quiet, emotional and moving. Grehan really conveys Beth’s anxiety and the ways in which her phobias trap and restrict her. At times the book can be difficult to read, and I felt panic setting  in myself reading some of the poems.

Just do the same thing

at the same time

just do it again and

again and again and

again and again and

again and again and

again until it sinks in

until your brain accepts it

until you can pretend

until you can pass as a person

Beth’s connection with Alice, the progression from friendship to something more, is handled tenderly. This relationship was built up slowly, in a manner that felt very realistic. Grehan explores the complexity for Beth of having a connection to the outside world once more. Beth has cut herself off from the rest of the world, and Alice’s ability to navigate it and to do things Beth isn’t able to do anymore is a source of tension. It is always good to see more LGBTQ love stories out there, particularly one portrayed in such a positive light. At times it did feel a bit too rosy, but of course I was glad Alice and Beth got their happy ending. I also would have liked the book to have been a bit longer,  I was enjoying it so much!

I also loved the fact that Alice, while playing a major role in Beth’s recovery, was not a knight in shining armour and Beth has to rely on her own inner strength to get better. Alice says to Beth at one point ‘I can’t be your reason.’ The Space Between shows how love and friendship can enrich your life and bring healing, but in the end Beth is the one who must take the steps, who must save herself. The ending is hopeful, but it is clear that Beth still has a long way to go and there is a sense that her recovery will be an ongoing process, with ups and downs. In this way, Grehan portrays mental illness in a very realistic way. Beth’s anxieties are by no means romanticised or beautified, and we really see how difficult coping with her agoraphobia, anxiety and depression is.

Above all, this is a beautifully written work. Even in the third person, we get right inside Beth’s head. The poems bring us right into her consciousness, and they flow beautifully. The formatting and typesetting are clever, and Grehan plays with the forms of the poems. I loved the part in which Beth is focusing on her breathing. In verse novels, words carry so much weight, and Grehan deftly weaves a moving tale of anguish, love and redemption. It is a short book, yet it has impact. Verse novels are much more prevalent in the US than in Ireland or the UK. Sarah Crossan is the most popular and prolific verse novelist in these parts, and it is great to see a new talent like Meg Grehan working in this format. Here’s to more Irish verse novels in the future!

The Space Between is an honest, delicate love story in verse, a book that warmed my heart and made me cry.

The Space Between will be launched in The Gutter Bookshop on Thursday March 30th by Deirdre Sullivan (author of Needlework and the Primrose Leary trilogy).

Space Between Launch

Review: Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I am always excited to discover a book that combines my two passions – books and art – and Girl Reading does so exceedingly well. I have been getting into reading short stories more of late, and this is a wonderful collection.

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Katie Ward

Virago Press (2011, this edition 2012)

Short stories – historical and contemporary fiction

This is an intriguing book, it has seven chapters or stories each focusing on an image of a girl or woman reading. I have also seen it described as a novel, but while it does come together at the end, it reads more like a collection of short stories to me. There is a great range in place and time – from early Renaissance Sienna to Victorian England to a futuristic virtual world. Each story is a world of its own, and completely involving at that. I loved how the final story linked the others together, but I also feel each story/chapter was very strong on its own.

Ward creates memorable and compelling characters – the twins who had a childhood career as mediums in the Victorian story are particularly striking, as is her innocent young artist in the Bloomsbury group-esque gathering at Arnault House, and her disillusioned political assistant having a drink in a London bar in the recent past.

I was resilient when I was younger. Headstrong. No one could talk me out of anything or stop me doing something I wanted to do. Recently I have begun to have doubts. Recently I’ve realised that version of myself has gone away.

There is a range of art forms too, from an altarpiece to a sketch to a photo posted on Flickr. The descriptions of the processes of studio photography in Victorian England were very interesting, but doesn’t take away from the story. There is a note at the end of the book (and links on Ward’s website) relating to the artworks that inspired the various stories. However, they work with or without this reference point. Art is central to each narrative, but so is identity, the sitter’s appearance and their inner life.

This is a book I have been thinking about since I finished reading it. The short story is a real art, and Ward succeeded in creating characters who are nuanced and complex, and who seem to live beyond the short page count of their narratives. A book I would recommend to readers with an interest in art, or with an interested in varied and absorbing narratives about women throughout history.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on my Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by wonderful blog The Broke and Bookish. This week’s theme is ten books on our Spring TBR (To Be Read) list.

I have recently moved out, and most of the books I brought with me are ones I haven’t read yet in an attempt to cut through my TBR list. (Of course some favourites like Fangirl, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, my special boxed Harry Potter set and my gift edition of Ballet Shoes also made the trip!) In that spirit, here are ten books on my shelves that I WILL read over the next few months.

Hidden Figures  – Margot Lee Shetterly

Having seen the fantastic film with my sisters, I am currently reading and loving the book that inspired it. The film was uplifting and entertaining, but the book has a wealth of information and history that didn’t make it to the screen.  I am learning lots, it is very well written and informative. Highly recommended!

The Call – Peadar Ó Guilín

This book has been on my shelf for a while…but I have been a bit afraid to read it. It has been described to me as ‘if the Hunger Games were set in Ireland’ and many of my fellow bookclubbers love it. With its recent shortlisting for the YA Book Prize and the CBI Book Awards now seems like the time to gather my courage and step into its creepy world…

NW – Zadie Smith

As I have mentioned on this blog before, I recently discovered Zadie Smith’s writing and now can’t get enough! A friend lent me NW and I just know I will love it. Next on my Zadie Smith list is White Teeth.

The Treachery of Beautiful Things – Ruth Frances Long

I love Long’s Dubh Linn trilogy, so I can’t wait to check out her earlier YA novel. It sounds like a spellbinding fantasy read, and the main character’s name is Jenny…already a good sign!

The Shadow Gate – Elizabeth Kostova

I was sent this book to review for LoveReading. I adored the spooky and atmospheric The Historian, and while I was less keen on Swan Thieves, Kostova is still always on my reading list!

After the Last Dance – Sarra Manning

I loved Sarra Manning’s Adorkable and have been meaning to read more of her books. While this is a very different book – historical fiction rather than contemporary YA – the premise is intriguing and I know the writing will be good.

Lives Like Loaded Guns – Lyndall Gordon

I am a big fan of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, so this book about her life and her family is right up my street. My great aunt passed it on to me, and the little bit I have read was very good. I am eager to get back to it, and have brought a book of Dickinson’s poetry with me also.

The Wild Air – Rebecca Mascull

This is a proof I picked up in the bookshop I worked in. The gorgeous cover and intriguing blurb were irresistible! It’s about female pilots in the Edwardian era. (Release date: April 2017)

The Lotterys Plus One – Emma Donoghue

I was intrigued to see Emma Donoghue has written a book for children (9-12 age group I believe) and couldn’t leave this proof behind in the shop. (Release date: April 2017)

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index – Julie Israel

Another proof, this time from the Eason event with Ally Carter, Alwyn Hamilton and Marie Lu. I have been told by a trusted fellow bookclubber that I will love it! (Release date: June 2017)

Leave a link to your TTT in the comments, I would love to discover more great books. And follow me on Goodreads to see how I get on with this pile of books.

 

 

International Women’s Day: March4Repeal

Late night thoughts on today’s march…

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Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, a day which celebrates the achievements of women around the world, and draws attention to the issues we continue to face. The official theme for International Women’s Day 2017 was ‘Be Bold for Change.’

For Irish women like myself, one of the major problems with our country is our lack of reproductive rights. The Eighth Amendment of 1983 to the Irish Constitution or Bunreacht na hEireann equates right of life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus. Thus abortion is criminalised in Ireland, forcing thousands of women to travel to England annually for a medical procedure that should be carried out safely and legally in their home country. That is, those who can afford to travel. Irish women still have abortions, but not safely or legally.

Today saw a huge turnout for the March4Repeal, in which over 10,000 people marched from the Garden of Remembrance to Leinster House (seat of the Dáil) carrying signs and chanting. Many wore black, in keeping with the Strike4Repeal campaign today in which women were encouraged to go on strike from work for the day.  The black and white Repeal jumpers were also a frequent sight around Dublin today, as well as being ubiquitous at the march itself. I took a day off work, and also took part in the March4Repeal. I have long worn a Repeal the 8th badge, and have written about the issue before but I felt it was time I took action, used my feet as well as my words.

The purpose of the march was to call for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, to have it removed from the constitution. Chants of ‘Enda, Enda, where’s the referenda?’, ‘We won’t wait, repeal the eighth’ and ‘My body, my choice’ where called out enthusiastically by the large crowd. Polling suggestions that the majority of Irish people do not support the eighth amendment, and this was certainly evident today in the energy and size of the crowd. I knew it would be popular, but was stunned by the turnout and proud to be a part of it. There was a strong sense of solidarity, of shared outrage, of a drive for change. The speeches before we set off were powerful, I was particularly impressed by the speaker from Doctors for Choice who spoke about the need to ‘bring these women home’ and to have access to free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland and to have support and aftercare for women who choose to have abortions.

Taking part in the march was a great thing to do, but it was also daunting. I was worried about the crowds, I was worried about the reaction. Walking up O’Connell Street amidst a sea of people to get to the starting point, I felt claustrophobic, my back hurt from being tense. My coat was open to show my Repeal t-shirt (from HunReal Issues using the design from the Maser mural), and I wore an Artists Repeal the 8th badge on my lapel. Each Repeal jumper or white lightening strike was a reassuring sign of solidarity, and I decided anyone wearing black was also an ally. I was delighted to see a pro-choice dog sporting a black top with a white lightening bolt. When I got to the Garden of Remembrance I was delighted to see such a crowd of people but it was also overwhelming and I was anxious about finding my friend. I knew this was something I wanted to do, even though it was a bit scary, and being with someone definitely helped.

The March4Repeal was an emotional experience.  There was the buzz of being part of this movement and of seeing it so well supported, but also the anger that we have to fight to make our own choices about our own bodies, and the sadness about the recent discovery of the horrendous abuses at Tuam. The march was a powerful demonstration, and one which I hope will be heard by our government.

I wholeheartedly hope this is the last Repeal march we need to have, but glad to have been part of it and to have marched for change. So this International Women’s Day…we can’t be equal until we have control of our own bodies. We won’t wait, repeal the 8th.

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Review: A World of Colour Exhibition at the DLR LexIcon

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The ‘A World of Colour’ exhibition in the DLR LexIcon brings together the work of Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna, two very talented illustrators and picturebook makers. The exhibition  was curated by Sarah Webb, the DLR Writer in Residence. Haughton and Alemagna have very different styles, and they make an interesting pairing for this exhibition.

The exhibition showcases original illustrations from many of their best known books, and offers viewers a valuable chance to examine these artworks on their larger original scale. Charming details are evident, and it is a joy to be able to see the mark-making on the page. Seeing originals also allows the viewer to consider the process of making a book, and in comparing the originals to the finished book to think about design and particularly text placement.

A wall showing collages Haughton made when planning A Bit Lost alongside finished illustrations from the book offers a fascinating insight into his process. The information panels, by picturebook expert Valerie Coghlan, give a brilliant introduction to each artist, information about their materials and process, and fun facts too! Her introduction to the picturebook also offers much food for thought when exploring the exhibition. I like that the images are allowed stand alone, only captioned, so the viewers can read the visual cues for themselves or simply enjoy these wonderful images.

There is a wonderful sneak peek of Beatrice Alemagna’s forthcoming book On a Magical Do-Nothing Day which will be published in English by HarperCollins this year. It has previously been published in French. There is a fantastic spirit of adventure and imagination in these pictures, I love the one where we are looking up at the little girl walking through a field.

This exhibition is a delight. From mischievous dogs to sleepy bears, curious children to strange creatures, there is so much to see. The bright and bold colours of Chris Haughton’s work are a visual treat, and one of the rugs he designed for his Fairtrade company Node is also on display. Seeing A Bit Lost on the original scale and in full vibrancy is worth the trip alone. Beatrice Alemagna’s work uses such a mixture of techniques, being able to examine her originals shows this off beautifully. I love her collage work in A Lion in Paris, it’s a marvellous book, and the portraits from What is a Child? are really beautiful.

Ultimately, these images work best in context. Where better to show them than in a library where readers young and old can then go find the books from which the images originated and answer lingering questions. Does the Haughton’s little owl in A Bit Lost find his way home? And what on earth does Alemagna’s lion get up to in A Lion in Paris?

Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna will be interviewed by Margaret Anne Suggs (another wonderful illustrator, see Pigín of Howth written by Kathleen Watkins) at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival next month. This will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their art, well worth tying in with a trip to the exhibition. I will be giving family tours of the exhibition on March 26th, do join me!

The exhibition runs until the 31st of March, and is located on the 3rd floor of the DLR LexIcon library.

 

Review: A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

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Sara Baume

A Line Made by Walking 

Tramp Press (Ireland)/William Heinemann (UK) 2017

Literary Fiction

Art and sadness, which last forever.

Frankie, a 25 year old artist, seeks healing and comfort in rural Ireland. Living in her deceased grandmothers home, and trapped in the clutches of depression and anxiety, she struggles to find meaning and comfort in life. She reflects on her childhood, on how she couldn’t make urban life work, on being creative, on her poor mental health. Taking up photography again, she focuses on the natural world and turns to the catalogue of artworks in her head to try and make sense of her life. She begins a project of taking pictures of dead animals, and these photos are interspersed throughout the book.

This is a brilliant, lyrical book and I think it is even better than Baume’s prize-winning debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither. The references to artworks are woven brilliantly into the story, and there is a helpful index of all the works mentioned at the end. Frankie’s interpretations of the works are very interesting, and this way of testing her visual memory and linking her life to art works well in the book. At times this is a difficult read, so potent is Frankie’s pain and sense of being isolated and lost. It is a grim book, offering a searing insight into family relationships, what makes art, being an outsider and living with mental illness. Sara Baume is a brilliant new talent on the Irish literary scene, and this book is a work of art.

Many thanks to LoveReading for sending me a copy of this book to review!

Top Ten Tuesday: Galentine’s Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by beautiful blog The Broke and the Bookish. For the day that’s in it, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about the romance. However, in the spirit of Leslie Knope and Galentine’s Day (13th February) here are some of my favourite book friendships!

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The Spinster Club by Holly Bourne

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Cover image from Goodreads

If you’ve read this blog before, you will have seen me rave about these books before. I think Holly Bourne is one of the best voices in contemporary YA, and I just adore the girls of the Spinster Club. While each protagonist has a boyfriend at some point in the series, what is most important is their friendship, how they support each other through everything.

Iron Cast  – Destiny Soria

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I really need to give this book a full review on the blog, it’s brilliant! Set just before the Prohibition era, this book focuses on a strong female friendship, mixed in with magic, mobsters and just a hint of romance. As Corinne and Ada, the unlikely best friends in the book, would say: it’s the cat’s miaow!

The Primrose Leary trilogy by Deirdre Sullivan

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I adore this trilogy. Prim’s diaries made me laugh and cry, her voice is wonderfully strong and distinctive. One of the things I loved most about these books was Prim’s friendships – Prim and Joel are just hilarious together (mustachioed babies!) and I really enjoyed seeing Prim’s friendship with Ella develop.

 

Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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These fantasy heist novels are not only cracking page turners with head-spinningly intricate plotting, they feature a motley crew of fantastic characters. It’s not always friendship as such, but I loved seeing the bonds develop between the characters throughout the books, and they make one hell of a team!

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares

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Oh these books. I have read them many, many times and it’s been interesting to see how my opinions on the different characters have changed (I’m much more of a Bridget fan now than I used to be, for example). I think they offer a very real picture of how friendship can change as you grow, but also how wonderful a true friend can be. Must (finally) watch the movies this year!

The Real Rebecca series by Anna Carey

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A series of books about three friends who set up a band (Hey Dollface) together. Told through diary entries these are really fun reads with a strong message about being yourself. Again they show friends don’t always get on or agree, but when it matters they are there.

Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes

Last Chance

My favourite Marian Keyes book. Tara, Fintan and Katherine are wonderful and memorable characters and while they all have their own romances, struggles and dramas to deal with in this book, their friendship is what makes it.

 

 

 

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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I have stated many a time how happy the romance at the centre of this book makes me,  I won’t spoil the mystery of Simon’s boy Blue for anyone here. However, another thing I really enjoyed was Simon and his friends. The dynamics of the friend group are explored well, and Abby is a fantastic character.

The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhán Curham

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The Moonlight Dreamers is a secret society, inspired by an Oscar Wilde quote, is for girls who don’t quite fit in, girls who dare to dream. The four girls are very different, and this book is a very empowering read about going your own way.

 

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

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Boarding school murder mysteries? Yes please! Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are best friends and amateur sleuths, and can’t wait to read more of their cases!

Post a link to your TTT below, let’s share the book love!

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Recommend as a Bookseller

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from the wonderful Broke and Bookish that combines the joys of books and lists. This week was a freebie, letting bloggers chose their own topic…

When not blogging, I work as a bookseller. Like all booksellers, I have my favourite books to recommend. I specialise in children’s/YA but there are a couple of books for adults here too!

Inkheart – Cornelia Funke

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I adore this book. I describe it as a book for book lovers, and I think readers young and old alike should read it. The idea of characters being read out of books is enchanting, and I love the book quotes at the beginnings of the chapters. It is pure magic.

The Goose Girl – Shannon Hale

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I love fairytales, and this retelling is gorgeous. It’s one I love to return to for its magical world and strong heroine. It is the first in the Books of Bayern series, all of which are great reads. But this is the best!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg

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This delightful children’s classic has been a successful staff pick of mine, and I’m delighted that this story is still being enjoyed by young readers as it is a hoot. It’s about a sister and brother who run away from home and take up residence in the Met Museum…

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

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Most people have probably read this book already, but it is so beautifully written that I don’t want anyone to miss out on the experience!

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

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This is a book I think deserves more attention. It’s about a painting being rediscovered and the ripples this sends through the London art world. I was enthralled!

 

One – Sarah Crossan

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A beautiful verse novel about sisterhood, identity and love. I read it in one sitting, I cried and now I recommend it all the time. A very deserving winner of the Carnegie medal.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Dave Rudden

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I recommend this to the many, many Potter fans in the shop looking for a great new  fantasy read. I am delighted that it has been chosen as the Dublin Citywide Read for 2017 and can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Am I Normal Yet?  – Holly Bourne

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If ever there were a series I wish had been around when I was a teenager, it’s the Spinster Club. Great characters, strong voices, humour, feminism, friendship, mental health… Holly Bourne is one of the best voices in contemporary YA at the moment and I love her books.

The Ministry of Suits – Paul Gamble

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For kids looking for a slightly mad and very funny read, this is my new go-to. It’s rare that I will find myself properly laughing out loud at a book, but this did it. Gloriously zany.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

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Fantastic writer, fantastic concept. This gripping novel is one of my favourite YA recommendations. Really anything by Patrick Ness comes highly recommended from me though!

Leave a link to your TTT below, looking forward to seeing what everyone has come up with for Freebie week.

Recent Reads

Short reviews of some recent reads!
Vivian vs the Apocalypse – Katie Coyle
Vivian Versus the Apocalypse (Vivian Apple, #1)

This book has been on my TBR pile for a long time, I was glad to finally get to it! A gripping YA read set in a version contemporary USA under the power of the fanatical Church of America. I won’t say too much about the plot (don’t want to give it away!) but this was an exciting read with strong characters, and I am very keen to read the follow up Vivian vs America. A very strong debut, and Vivian Apple is an excellent protagonist.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

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I read this book over Christmas, and felt a bit guilty all snuggled up in blankets and cosy slippers while the author was trekking the Pacific Crest Trail, down to only one hiking boot. This was an utterly gripping and moving read. Strayed is very honest in her writing, and the result is a powerful and uplifting book. While I won’t be hiking the PCT any time soon, it made me think a lot about my own life and what I want to do.

History is All You Left Me – Adam Silvera (ARC, will be published in February 2017)

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A very moving read about first love, loss and grief. I loved how the book switched between past and present (the shift in person was interesting also). Griff, the protagonist, is mourning his first love and best friend Theo, while also becoming more and more controlled by his compulsions. The mix of romance, grief and friendship was strong, and the depiction of Griffin’s struggles with OCD felt very real and honest. I definitely want to read More Happy Than Not this year.

On Beauty – Zadie Smith
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After reading Swing Time, I’m keen to discover the rest of Zadie Smith’s work. As a former student of art history, I enjoyed the role art played in this book but what I really loved was how Smith gets us into the characters’ heads and how she explores their relationships. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Ink – Alice Broadway (ARC, will be published in February 2017)
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First of all, how beautiful is this book? The cover is gorgeous and shiny and I was immediately enticed to read it. The book itself is very compelling, and I cannot wait to read the read of the trilogy. It is set in a world in which everyone is ‘marked’, inked with tattoos cataloguing your life. The idea is that this is a way of creating an honest and good society, but Leora soon comes to see that things are not as black and white as they may seem…

I’m currently reading an ARC of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and it’s just as brilliant as I had heard!

The Hate U Give

 

Ulster Museum Visit January 2017

I was visiting a friend in Belfast this weekend, and I was delighted we could fit in a visit to the Ulster Museum. Their art exhibitions are fantastic, and I haven’t been doing enough gallery-going lately.

Here are a few highlights from my visit.

Bare Life: Abstraction and Figuration in 20th Century British Art

This exhibition explored modernism, and the opposing modes of abstract and figurative art. There was a mixture of paintings, photographs and sculpture.

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The highlight of this exhibition for me was the Duncan Grant painting Interior at Charleston (1918) which shows Vanessa Bell and David Garrett at Charleston, the house the three of them lived in. Bell is shown painting a still life and while Garrett is translating Dostoevsky. It offers a glimpse into the world of the Bloomsbury group, an avant garde group of creatives that I have a great interest in.

This is an essay I wrote about the art of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.

The New Past: Irish Art from 1800 to 2016

I loved this exhibition. There was a wide selection of Irish painting on show, with works by such artists as Paul Henry, Sir John Lavery, Jack B Yeats, Margaret Clarke, Louis le Brocquy and Sarah Cecilia Harrison to name but a few. The exhibition is divided into sections – Invention, Theatre, Myth and After the Past.

Highlights of the exhibition for me included the wonderful Margaret Clarke self-portrait, Robin Redbreast. It was so different from other works by her I had seen (Stringbergian (1927), one of her better known paintings is also in the exhibition). This work was more realist in style. She has painted herself wearing a red waistcoat, part of the traditional dress of the Aran Islands.  Her expression is so compelling; she looks directly at the viewer and is quite vulnerable. I was captivated by this painting.

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One of Sir John Lavery’s many portraits of his glamorous wife Hazel, The Green Coat (1926) was another highlight of the exhibition for me. It is a large scale work, and Hazel’s height is accentuated. She looks off into the distance and has an almost mystical quality about her, like a fairy queen.

Rita Duffy’s Titanic (2002) was another work I hadn’t come across before. It’s a small mixed media work, echoing the texture of the metalwork of the ship. This aspect of the work recalls engineering and industry in Belfast and the presence of the storm and the iceberg point to the tragic outcome of the voyage.

Another modern work I enjoyed was Elizabeth Magill’s Chronicle of Orange (2007). Her landscapes have quite an eerie, almost mystical quality yet details like electricity lines firmly ground them in the contemporary. The influence of Romantic painting is there, as is the influence of photography. Her use of colour is stunning, and I always enjoy her work.

If I had to pick an overall highlight, it would be Alicia Boyle’s Potato Washers (1949). It was a delight to see this as I had researched her sketchbooks as an intern in the National Gallery of Ireland a couple of years ago. Having seen some of the sketches for this work it was a real joy to see the actual painting, especially unexpectedly! I loved the vibrant use of colour and expressive brushwork.

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There are many more wonderful artworks in both exhibitions, I would highly recommend a visit if you’re in Belfast. The Elements exhibition was also very interesting, particularly the part about poisons! Several great murder mystery ideas there…