Books

The Queen of Dirt Island review: Almost an affecting novel

Donal Ryan has written an evocative story of time and place, about four generations of women in rural Ireland, writes Patrick Maxwell.

Image: Jochen Bams on Unsplash

The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan is out on
August 18 (Doubleday, £14.99)

Something is going on in Irish fiction which has beguiled and enchanted British readers over the last decade. Donal Ryan may explain the trend: his laconic prose, the episodic structure, the pastoral descriptions, the constant sources of tragedy and the silent, morose central characters through whose tinted lens we get a glimpse of their world.

The Queen of Dirt Island takes us to rural Ireland and the enveloping disgraces and disasters of Saoirse Aylward as she grows up without a father and a religious ethic doomed to corruption by the farmers and schoolboys all around her. It is almost an affecting novel, yet it seems made too much of effects, of endearing phrases and a placid obscurity of time and place.

There is a real vein of self-pity throughout this novel: Republican terrorists are treated as victims and disaster is piled on affected disaster to make it seem realistic. But it won’t move you.

Patrick Maxwell is a writer and journalist 

You can buy The Queen of Dirt Island from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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