Review of “Confessions of an Irish Rebel” by Brendan Behan

I first came across the name of Brendan Behan when I was reading about Christy Brown. Socially, they were on friendly terms but Brown was anxious to match his success. Behan, just like Brown was a voracious drinker, and it played a significant role in his early death at the age of forty-one.

This book was released posthumously. It tells the story of his life, in his own inner voice after Borstal Boy (when he was imprisoned for attempting to bomb the Liverpool docks). Brendan dictated this book during the last years of his life. Thankfully, the book had been completed, but it had not been edited by Behan. It tends to wonder at times and is a bit loose here and there. It can meander from one subject to the next and at times it can be hard to keep track of.

More importantly, for me anyway it leaves many questions unanswered. He never states why he drifted away from the IRA, just that he did. There is nothing about how he feels about his poor health in the end or about his illegitimate child (a further child is born to his wife post death).

However, it is very well written and has many very funny sub stories. One of the funnier aspects is how he gets on with some of the British police and prison guards. For instance, after another stint in prison, he is given the option to get out if he agrees to leave the country. A policeman goes with him to the port and they both get drunk along the way. He is supposed to spend his last night in another prison but they won’t let him in as they say he is too drunk! The book is full of such anecdotes and can be very laugh out loud at times.

Another, is when he’s working for a pimp in Paris from one of the pubs. A man is there with his mother, so they convince her that her son heading to a late night mass only for men.

He never talks about his own liaisons, but the book gives me the impression that there were many. It’s a pity cause I’m sure there must have been some stories left out.

The book ends quite abruptly. Probably, on his death he didn’t want to say too much about those he loved most.

I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5.

Review of “The Best Man” by Annabelle Costa

All the readers who have closely followed my blog, will know that I’m a big fan of Annabelle Costa and that she has had a strong influence on my writing. This is the latest novel of hers I have read. Once more, it is a romance story between a disabled man (John) who is a quadriplegic and his future love (Kirby).

The book begins with Kirby’s long-distance boyfriend surprising her at a friend’s wedding and proposing. Kirby says yes, excited about the proposal and finally reaching the next stage of her life. Kirby lives in New York, while her fiance, Ted, lives in Silicon Valley. They met online and have spent very little time together. Ted asks Kirby to meet up with his best man (oops) and help him with some of the best man duties.

This love story takes a few twists and turns a long the way. Okay, things don’t look great at the start, the woman is after all engaged to his supposed best friend. Now, I suppose one guy stealing a woman from another guy is not something that I would usually condone, but as he’s in a wheelchair and the other guy is not, so I’m willing to make an exception. Not sure why, like I wouldn’t be the biased type.

So, there’s that and the fact that their first meeting goes horrendously. John comes across as obnoxious and not the kind of person that you would want to get to know better. But as time goes on you see things from his perspective and he becomes less horrid. Kirby and Ted (her fiance) gradually grow apart, well on her side anyway!

Generally, this is quite an uplifting story but there are some raw and cutting scenes. At one point when John is on a date and a woman asks for money to stay cause he’s unable to walk. Then there’s the mugger that pushes him out of the wheelchair and how helpless he feels. We also learn about some of John’s day to day struggles. That’s one of the things I like about this author, she has insight into the obstacles of living with a disability.

One criticism though is that the character of the fiance is very two dimensional. She makes it too easy to be against him. Even right up to the end, he has no redeemable characteristics. The way he lashes out after finding out about the relationship means that there is no guilt, no moral ambiguity. John was the good guy, that’s all we need to know. I feel if she’s going to win the Booker prize she needs to bring a bit more grit.

So, taking everything into consideration it get four stars out of five from me.

Hopefully, I will have the latest part of Squalor out by the end of the weekend.

If you enjoy my writing, don’t forget to follow my blog, my twitter @markahern2000 or on facebook – markswritingcorner.

Review of “The Englishman” by David Gilman

Hello readers, been some time since I last did a review. Been a busy bee lately. Fortunately, I finished reading this during the week. It is a fast paced unrelenting action thriller, that quite simply never stops. The first few chapters can be somewhat confusing but stick with it.

It brings you from a clandestine war in the depths of Africa to a kidnapping in London and taking on the Russian Mafia (a fearsome and loathsome lot). The main character Raglan is a man of steely determination, of good character and intelligence from The French Foreign Legion. It is a world of lies and deceit, but also of loyalty and honour. He is the Englishman by which the novel gets its name.

Raglans quest for answers ultimately becomes a quest for revenge that brings you to the hell that is a Siberian prison. It comes across as utterly beautiful, but truly terrifying as he finds himself surrounded by monsters in freezing conditions.

The action scenes are exquisitely described, no detail is too small whether its the intricacies of hand to hand combat to what kind of gun is being used. The violence and the scenes of torture are vivid. At its best, you feel right in the heart of the action. It’s a long read though, going from one scene to the next and the character development is sparse. I was never particularly worried that a character may die. The only other notable character is a Moscow agent The sex scenes are good but there is little else from her. This is perhaps where the novel could have been improved.

This novel gets four stars out of five for me. If you like the darker James Bonds films, you’ll probably love this. Actually, it would make a great film. However, if violence and torture is not your thing, then this might not be for you.

Review of “My Left foot” by Christie Brown

This is a book I have always wanted to read. Most of you have probably already seen the eponymous film it later inspired. For those who have not, Brown was the tenth of twenty-two children (thirteen of whom survived). Back then, child mortality was very high, especially in the urban areas of Ireland. Brown was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy and his parents were told that they should put him into an institution and forget about him because he would be a “mental defective”. From what we know now, this would have been a death sentence. This novel was published in 1954, when Brown was still just twenty two years, so most of it is set in 1930’s and 1940’s Dublin. This was a very different time and place to modern Ireland.

Brown relies on his family for all of his basic needs and his speech in his early years is intelligible to all, but his family. That is why it is such a breakthrough when they realize that he is able to communicate by writing with his left foot. At first, it is just a letter, but with perseverance especially from his mother he improves over time. His mother is the other central character in the novel. She is the one who didn’t give up on him and got him to make the most of what he had. Later Brown also uses his left foot to paint. It turns out that he is very good and this is what brings him to wider public attention in his teenage years, when he wins a competition.

In a way, he was fortunate to be from such a large family as his brothers brought him out and about them with them. However, as happens with many people with disabilities, as one grows older growing awareness of one being somewhat different leads to many isolating themselves. Alas, this is what happened to him, and it appears he rarely left the house from the age of eight or nine.

There were people who cared about his plight though. A young nurse who visited him and encouraged his writing. Then later, a doctor who believes that he can be cured by “physiotherapy”. In a way, I found this part of the book quite interesting as Brown has perhaps inadvertently given a fascinating insight into the early beginnings of Disability Support Services and treatments.

At the time, the cause of cerebral palsy was unknown. It appears that the doctors told him with the required effort, he could become “normal”. They even told him to stop using his left foot as this would hold his recovery back (thankfully, he eventually ignores them). Alas, the benefits of physio were oversold. However, it does make a difference and has benefited many people with disabilities, including myself to this day. They have to rent rooms in which to carry out their activities. There is no Central Remedial Clinic, no IWA, nothing and there wouldn’t be for another decade or so.

Browns writing is quite funny at times, despite the dark content of basically being trapped inside a body that mostly doesn’t function. He originally thought of putting “mental defective” in the title of book, to show how wrong the doctors were. Perhaps, he should have.

The film seems to include many things that are not in this book. There is no fight in a pub for a start! In fact, alcohol is not consumed at all in the book. In reality, Brown is an alcoholic. Also, there’s no mention of his sister becoming pregnant out of wedlock, like in the film, which leads him to shouting at his father to leave her alone. I learned that there is a later novel he writes, which is darker that he never admits to being autobiographical, which maybe is where these scenes came from.

Or maybe they are just pure fiction. The novel ends fairly abruptly at a ceremony to raise funds for cerebral palsy, but he’s still only 22. The film ends with news that Brown married the love of his life before choking to death at the age of 49. In reality, according to his family he married a former prostitutes who neglected him. It does seem that he loved her though, so who are we to judge?

In any event, he will always be one of my heroes. He triumphed against great adversity, and played a role in highlighting disability in the Irish mainstream. It may come as no surprise that it gets five stars out of five from me.

Review: People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield

A debut novel by Clare Whitfield and all I can say is I hope she writes lots more. I gave this novel four out of five stars on goodreads and it was well deserved.

This novel is craftily set in late nineteenth century London and it doesn’t shy away from the hardships of the time. You really get a feeling for the squalor, the putrid smells and the desperation of the times. This is a world of prostitutes, thieves and a huge disparity in wealth between rich and poor. The main character Susannah is complex and also bisexual. I enjoyed the sub story between her and a fellow nurse. Fortunately for her she is also determined and of strong character.

It is clear that she marries for money as much as love, something I find very reasonable for the times. However, the marriage quickly takes a dark turn as her husband who at first showers her with love, becomes increasingly violent. As her own fascination with Jack The Ripper grows, she begins to suspect her husband.

This novel is full of intrigue and twists. The twists are very believable and it’s as if you’re slowly seeing behind the mist. Even Susannah has a dark side, which made me like her even more. Perhaps, because I believe people are rarely all good or all evil.

If you haven’t read this novel, I recommend that you do.