As I was reading this it was announced that Louise Kennedy has made the shortlist for the 2023 Women’s Fiction Prize alongside Jacqueline Crooks whose “Fire Rush” I have already read and rated five stars. On the evidence of these two books this particular judging panel seem to know how to spot a gem. I think this novel is outstanding and a serious contender for my Book Of The Year (yes, I know it’s only May!)
It caught my attention when it won Novel Of The Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards beating Donal Ryan, whose book I’d loved. It was also a title which popped up when I was “Looking Around” at what other bloggers had loved at the end of 2022 and Cathy at 746 Books and Karen at Booker Talk and my friend Louise’s recommendations were enough to push this up my To Be Read List.
Set in Northern Ireland in 1974 it is ostensibly a tale of a problematic relationship between a Catholic Primary School teacher who works part-time in her family’s pub and a customer, an older Protestant barrister. But it is so much more as with a lot of attention to domestic detail the author humanises a world which seemed so alien to those of us who were around then watching the horrors of daily news bulletins in the UK at the height of The Troubles. As a child then it seemed impossible to me that life could go on as normal there through the barricades, searches, explosions and retaliations but Louise Kennedy brings this time to life. I recall enough to know that this is subject matter that I would not actively seek out but the author has convinced me otherwise in skilfully recreating this time and location.
Characterisation is great. Main protagonist Cushla’s mother copes with the effects The Troubles have had on her family through alcohol and some wonderful one-liners. Her class favourite, seven year old Danny is such a strong illustration of the resilience of children, her colleague Gerry is a valuable support and there’s a very scary parish priest.
Perhaps the hardest thing to come to terms with was what Cushla sees in barrister Michael Agnew and whether it is worth the trouble it will cause but the author does not romanticise this attachment. We see it in its warts-and-all reality but accept that Cushla is experiencing something different.
I felt my involvement which started off very strong deepened more and more as I progressed through this excellent book. There really has been some exceptional writing coming out of Ireland the last decade or so and this, dealing with very difficult issues and a very difficult time in the country’s history is amongst the very best.
Trespasses was published in 2022 by Bloomsbury.