Review: Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy by P.D. Singer

The best jobs in 1911 Belfast are in the shipyards, but Donal Gallagher’s pay packet at Harland and Wolff doesn’t stretch far enough. He needs to find someone to share his rented room; fellow ship-builder Jimmy Healy’s bright smile and need for lodgings inspire Donal to offer. But how will he sleep, lying scant feet away from Jimmy? It seems Jimmy’s a restless sleeper, too, lying so near to Donal…

In a volatile political climate, building marine boilers and armed insurrection are strangely connected. Jimmy faces an uneasy choice: flee to America or risk turning gunrunner for Home Rule activists. He thinks he’s found the perfect answer to keep himself and his Donal safe, but shoveling coal on a luxury liner is an invitation to fate.

Review by Erastes

It wasn’t until I’d finished this book that I realised that it was actually quite short at 70 odd pages. However it doesn’t read short and it’s well worth every penny of the price. Somehow the author manages to squish a lot–a lot–into those 70 odd pages. But while this would be noticeable with some authors–I often come away from novellas thinking that the walls are being squashed the book could explode into a novel very easily–this is deftly done and it doesn’t seem that it’s wearing boots several sizes too small.

And this is moot, because there was a lot going on in Belfast at this time. Not only were the shipyards the envy of the world, pushing out ships like shelling peas and creating the gargantuans of the shipping world at the time–in particular the White Star Line including The Olympic, the Britannic and the Titanic–but there was unrest (as there had been for centuries) as Ireland chafed against the British yoke.

And it’s into this powder keg Singer drops her story–a simple gay love story which is tender and sweet until outside forces compel them to act in ways that will put their relationship at very great risk.

What I liked most of all about this book is the subtlety of the prose–please do not be put off by what I say here, but Singer weaves the flavour of the language and the rythym of the Irish into the third person narration. Not so much as–say–Jamie O’Neill, but enough just to lift the prose above the ordinary. It’s not there all the time, but it’s a delight when you catch a taste of the lilt. I enjoyed this hugely.

The research, while relayed entirely within the story (no Dan Brown info dumps here, and that would have been the choice of some authors, I know) the author has done a lot of work to learn about the interiors of these ships, the men that worked on them and how things were done, how they were built, how they were launched, tested. It’s great to ride along with Jimmy and Donal as they build these monsters: you can almost see the superstructures rising higher and higher above the dockyards.

You can also understand the duality of the situation, too. Here’s a highly skilled craftsman like Donal, capable of creating the most beautiful woodwork for the first class cabins, and he’s hardly making enough money to support himself and his family back home. He’s forced to take in a room-mate to make ends meet, whilst millionaires will use his washstands on the ships, paying prices for one journey that would keep a dozen families in food and heat for years.

Despite the fact that the book fits its bounds so well, despite the breadth of topics covered, I would have liked more, it’s impossible not to want more when something is this well written. I don’t know P.D. Singer’s work–I beleive this is her first gay historical–but if she writes another I will be snapping it up immediately.

I recommend this book highly, and I’m sure you will enjoy it.

As for the “Maroon” – this is one of Torquere’s bizarre themes, I don’t get why it’s sub-labelled “Maroon” in fact I actually thought that it was part of thee title until I looked up the book on the website. However, it’s not the author’s fault. I wish Torquere would stop doing this sort of thing. At least they’ve given this book a decent cover and not one painted by someone’s four year old. Neither is it the author’s fault that Amazon has the wrong title up on their sites!

Author’s website

Amazon UK   Amazon USA  Torquere

Review: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

1918, the closing months of the war. Army psychiatrist William Rivers is increasingly concerned for the men who have been in his care – particularly Billy Prior, who is about to return to combat in France with young poet Wilfred Owen. As Rivers tries to make sense of what, if anything, he has done to help these injured men, Prior and Owen await the final battles in a war that has decimated a generation.

Review by Charlie Cochrane

The third part of a trilogy, which began with Regeneration and continued with The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road won the 1995 Booker Prize. Given that certain writers’ associations would like to see fiction with a gay content put right back in the closet, it’s worth pointing out that both this book – and The Line of beauty – have won prestigious awards. Quality of story telling and writing should take precedence over other considerations.

As the reader moves through the trilogy, more and more is revealed about the four key characters – the fictional Billy Prior and the real life Rivers, Sassoon and Owen. These are complex men and neither they. Nor the story line, are easy to compartmentalise or even warm to at times. Not one of these three books is an easy to read, ‘formulaic’ piece of fiction

Certain themes run through the books. The interweaving of physical and psychological measures in healing features constantly, as does the nature of war and the appropriate response to it (is there a definitive one?)  The ghosts in the Ghost Road aren’t just the ones from the past that dictate the present. There are spirits manifesting themselves –Sassoon sees them, Rivers has encountered them in his past travels to Melanesia. Are they real? Are they a factor of shell shock or superstition? Pat Barker leaves it to the reader to decide.

Also, there’s a rumbling theme concerning the homoerotic nature of war – the closeness of men, both in terms of actual space and camaraderie, the attractions between them to be acted on or ignored as appropriate. In one memorable scene Prior’s thoughts flit between comparing Owen to a rent boy and wondering how he feels about killing:

He looks like one of the boys you see on street corners in the East End. Open to offers. I must say I wouldn’t mind…And I wonder if he sees those faces, grey, open-mouthed faces, life draining out of them before the bullets hit…

To outline the plot of this book is pointless – it’s more a jigsaw than a flowing stream. Inevitably, given that Prior ends up in the same unit as Owen, one can guess at the outcome – it’s not hard to put some sort of odds on (or against) the sort of happy ending that’s often demanded in romantic fiction. But this isn’t your usual romance, although it has romantic elements. It’s hard hitting fiction and none the less worthwhile for that.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

%d bloggers like this: