A New York Times Notable Book Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize Winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award and International Award
"A swift and masterful transformation of family griefs and political violence into something at once rhapsodic and heartbreaking. If Issac Babel had been born in Derry, he might have written this sudden, brilliant book."
Hugely acclaimed in Great Britain, where it was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and short-listed for the Booker, Seamus Deane's first novel is a mesmerizing story of childhood set against the violence of Northern Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s.
The boy narrator grows up haunted by a truth he both wants and does not want to discover. The matter: a deadly betrayal, unspoken and unspeakable, born of political enmity. As the boy listens through the silence that surrounds him, the truth spreads like a stain until it engulfs him and his family. And as he listens, and watches, the world of legendthe stone fort of Grianan, home of the warrior Fianna; the Field of the Disappeared, over which no gulls flyreveals its transfixing reality. Meanwhile the real world of adulthood unfolds its secrets like a collection of folktales: the dead sister walking again; the lost uncle, Eddie, present on every page; the family house "as cunning and articulate as a labyrinth, closely designed, with someone sobbing at the heart of it."
Seamus Deane has created a luminous tale about how childhood fear turns into fantasy and fantasy turns into fact. Breathtakingly sad but vibrant and unforgettable, Reading in the Dark is one of the finest books about growing upin Ireland or anywherethat has ever been written.
Deane is a poet and a celebrated literary historian, and this, his first novel, was deservedly shortlisted for England's Booker prize last year (it did win the Guardian Fiction Prize). At first glance, it covers familiar turf: an Irish family riven by the political strife of the 1920s trying to live with the legacy of bloodshed and betrayalall seen through the eyes of a sensitive young boy as he looks back 20 years later. But Deane has a poet's eye, which transforms the most everyday material into something eternally rich and strange: "The rain lifted away, the sunlight lay piebald on the path for a brief time, then the rain shuttered us in again." And he watches the long struggles of the family with the same kind of patient endurance they themselves display. Gradually, their story emerges from the mists in which it has been wrapped for a generation: an uncle who in family legend had fled to Chicago had in fact been executed, mistakenly, as an informer on the IRA by members of his own family; the real informer, who had been loved by the boy's mother and had briefly married her sister, had escaped, tipped off by the police. Mother and father each know some of the story, and realize that knowing all of it will drive them apart; their life together is a long, loving grief. All this is glimpsed by the narrator in hints and flashes, combined with hilarious surges of comic reliefa lecture on the facts of life by a well-meaning priest, an incomprehensible math lesson at school, the brisk tirades of a local madman, a sly way of getting back at a hated policeman by way of the bishop. In Deane's hands, the language leaps and quivers, and the life he illuminates is at once achingly sad and transfixingly real. 35,000 first printing. (Apr.)