The Apparitions by Anne Devlin, Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson and Wivenhoe by Samuel Fisher – The Irish Times

The Apparitions

By Anne Devlin (Arlen House, €12)

Many of the characters in Anne Devlin’s The Apparitions — her first collection of stories in 36 years — are coming to terms with things. In Lamp, a woman in a new home finds that “fear is making an orphan of her past” — a past that, as in several of the stories, involves a beautifully evoked Troubles-era Belfast. “The self unfurls on a journey,” she writes in The Adoption Feast. Sometimes, as in the opening story Winter Journey (The Apparitions), Devlin’s ambition gives the stories a complexity and density that can be hard to follow as they switch between settings and times. Best are the stories that focus on one thing and stick to linearity, such as A Place Called Dam, or Under the Westway, where a physical journey by car stands in for emotional progress. “She was afraid that if she moved one degree in the wrong direction she would cease to exist.” John Self

Seek the Singing Fish

By Roma Wells (Epoque Press, £9.99)

“It’s easy to hide salt grains in sugar and sugar grains in salt.” Seek the Singing Fish is a wide-eyed, glass-half-full novel of wise, light-footedness over darkness, disaster and betrayal. We fall for Artemila, who is ripped from her beloved Sri Lanka to the streets of London; she loses everything she loves, wounded in body, heart and mind, but still holds fast to her awe of the natural world. With a tsunami of celebratory details about all creatures great and small, vulture and dog alike, the story is pierced with moments of acute reflection and acceptance. The language is fecund, crawling, vibrant, bursting with an indefatigable joie de vivre. An odyssey, with a deep love of books woven through its pages, hope is the thing with feathers in this book: a fizzing, crackling joy. Ruth McKee

The Feeling House

By Saleh Addonia (Holland House Books, £9.99)

Saleh Addonia’s debut novel, recipient of The Royal Society of Literature’s Literature Matters Award 2021, is a collection of 11 short stories centered on themes of exile and disorientation. Born to an Eritrean mother and an Ethiopian father, Addonia moved to a refugee camp in Sudan where he lost his hearing. He spent his teens in Saudi Arabia before moving on to London as a refugee. Inspired by his personal experience in these places, each story takes a different form. The stories are fragmented, causing us to lean into the confusion of displacement. The writing is creative and promising. Through denied asylum, death and broken relationships, Addonia articulates alienation and loneliness in a way I’ve never read before. This book is a beautiful exploration of powerful themes. Adesewa Awobadejo

Black Cake

By Charmaine Wilkerson (Penguin, £12.99)

The traditional Caribbean dish of the title is served up in this multigenerational story as a symbol of inheritance and legacy, and the novel tells a rich story about immigration and identity from multiple perspectives. Estranged siblings Benny and Byron reunite at their mother Eleanor’s funeral in California, and then the action wanders in time and place between the US, London and an unnamed Caribbean island. It explores death, resentment, sexuality and secrecy. I found myself wanting more. The themes of emigration and family history resonated and there was also a spontaneous tone to the writing that carried me through the complex narrative. The novel beautifully captures the struggles of family and identity and the liberation that comes from those struggles. The American writer’s debut is already in development for TV with Oprah’s Winfrey’s production company. Adesewa Awobadejo

Wivenhoe

By Samuel Fisher (Corsair, £12.99)

Samuel Fisher’s latest novel asks the reader to enter an alternate present where the world has been struck by environmental disaster — a present that feels chillingly close to our own. Essentially a dystopian murder mystery, Fisher’s tightly lyrical tale is compelling precisely because it operates on two interconnected levels. On the universal, this is a text that engages with the metanarrative of climate change, the global danger that looms over humanity. But the novel’s core resonates mostly deeply on the level of the personal, in the moments of desperate intimacy Fisher’s beautifully realized characters clutch at in the face of disaster. A story about the world and what it means to survive — this is a fable for the times ahead that feels essential. Becky Long

PS — Look Out for Snakes

Edited by Miriam Farrell-Staierman (Katounia Press, €15.95)

Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting academic and broadcaster Brian Farrell knows he was a consummate gentleman, and these letters from 1954 to 1955, between him and his then fiancee, Marie-Thérèse Dillon, edited by their daughter, confirm that. He was then studying for his master’s at Harvard, while she remained in Dublin, and they wrote to each other almost daily. The letters reveal their writers’ personalities and also provide insights into mid-1950s Irish and American social and political life. Brian was greatly interested in American politics, attended pro- and anti-McCarthy rallies and followed elections closely. There’s also a lot about UCD at the time. The many money worries that Marie-Thérèse expressed reveal the economic precarity of 1950s Ireland. A revealing portrait of a love and of a different era. Brian Maye

Leave a Comment