Wednesday, 30 September 2020

WHERE THE EDGE IS by Grainne Murphy. A Review





 

On first appearances, this novel by Grainne Murphy appears to be a suspenseful, disaster story centred around the lives of a group of innocent people trapped in a bus teetering on the edge of a massive sinkhole. While the central catastrophe does play an important part in the novel, the story really becomes an in-depth study of human love and loss and grief and our fragility and strength in the face of tragedy. Hence the title and the bus disaster becomes a metaphor for the knife-edge we vulnerable humans tread as we struggle to overcome adversity and survive.

 

The story begins when a road in rural Ireland collapses and swallows a bus carrying eight passengers. As the bus threatens to fall deeper into the sinkhole, the authorities scramble to set a rescue plan in place. What follows is partly the poignant story of some of the victims inside the bus, but mostly the novel focuses on the people involved in the rescue, mainly Nina, a news reporter on the scene, and her ex-husband Tim, a fire-fighter in charge of the rescue. Their shared grief over the death of their 11-month-old daughter comes to the forefront as the pressure of the rescue intensifies.

 

The author is not afraid to tackle sensitive themes and when Alina, a visible minority passenger is rescued by Richie, the bus driver who was recently suspended over his use of a racial slur, rumours about terrorism soon start circulating, despite the fact that the woman has lived her entire life in Ireland. Murphy really nails Richie’s struggle to come to terms with his new hero status and Alina’s questioning of her true place in her adopted country.  

 

Murhy’s writing is lyrical and intense, though relieved by some humour. Difficult themes are tackled with great sensitivity and insight, particularly in some of  Nina’s heartrending reflections on the details of her child's death and its catastrophic effect on her life. At times, however, the pace slows a little and events lose their emotional impact when Nina appears to be going over the same ground. Also the final rescue is underplayed, which may be disappointing for some readers. But for those who are looking for an exploration of  family, connection, self-identity, faith, belonging and all the things that make us complex humans, this will be a most satisfying read.

Thanks to Legend Press for sending me an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.

Check out these other great sites for reviews of the book.



Thursday, 10 September 2020

SUMMER WANDERINGS Part 2

 Now the evenings are cooler and summer is drawing to a close, it's time to reflect back on some of the other local trips we took and wonder how I ever complained about the endless sunshine and heat! Here are some of the highlights of our wanderings.                                               

DELTA BEACH and FORT LA REINE MUSEUM

Fort La Reine, on the outskirts of Portage la Prairie, is an interactive museum where you can wander through completely furnished houses and shops from every era in Manitoba's history from an authentic trapper's hut to a 1920's house to a fully functioning local newspaper office complete with printing press. Every detail is lovingly preserved. Set aside a few hours to get through every intricately furnished room.

Delta Beach on Lake Manitoba is a wild and windswept place next to Delta Marsh - a favourite spot for hunting lodges since the Victorian era. Shallow, clear water and gnarled, uprooted tree trunks left over from the last major flood, make this a haunting place to visit.






HECLA ISLAND/GULL HARBOUR 

Located an hour away from Gimli, Hecla Island is a pristine piece of wilderness sitting on Lake Winnipeg. Originally an Icelandic settlement, Hecla village retains its charm in the tidy, well kept houses that stand along the road. Drive through to reach Gull Harbour  and its charming pier, and for those who love to golf, the Lakeview Hecla resort is an oasis of luxury in the wilderness.


MATLOCK and WINNIPEG BEACH

Only an hour's drive away from Winnipeg takes you to prime cottage country and beautiful beaches on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Towns like Matlock and Winnipeg Beach have been popular resorts since the turn of the 20th century when they were first accessible by rail. Up until the late 1950's a train nicknamed "The Moonlight Special" ran every Saturday night, transporting starry-eyed revellers from the Winnipeg CPR station to the famous "Pavilion" at Winnipeg Beach with its 1400 sq. ft. dance floor. The massive roller coaster and dance hall are long gone, but the old wooden piers on Matlock Beach are still there and the main street of Winnipeg Beach has been recently renovated and now has an outdoor stage and picturesque boardwalk giving it a nice retro feel .


STONEWALL and OAK HAMMOCK MARSH

In the early days, the limestone escarpments of Stonewall were used by indigenous populations as "buffalo jumps" when riders would funnel the animals towards a steep cliff during the hunts. In the 1880's a quarry was opened to produce quicklime. The massive limestone kilns can still be seen at the entrance to Quarry Park, and the Kinsmen Pool boasts gorgeous greenish water perfect for cooling off on a hot day.

Oak Hammock Marsh is a 36 sq. km restored prairie marsh and beautiful interpretive centre. Home to a wide variety of birds and mammals, the area is a vital staging ground for fowl migration when up to 400,000 birds a day can be seen landing or taking off from there.

It's been a great summer travelling to these and many other places nearby. Just shows you how many great places there are close to home.

Check below for my review of an amazing new novel:

BOOK REVIEW


It is indeed a strange experience to read this book about a pandemic when the world is presently in the grips of one. Apparently Saleema Nawaz began to write this novel in 2013 and completed it in 2019, just in time for fiction to become reality. The story, therefore, becomes eerily prescient, the face masks, hand sanitizers, quarantine periods and crowded E.R's strangely familiar. A major difference is that though the virus in the story is a coronavirus that attacks the respiratory system, its primary victims are children rather than the elderly.

What makes this such a great novel, however, is that it never falls into cliched dystopian imaginings or a doom-filled story of world apocalypse. Instead it takes time to examine the interaction between a handful of seemingly disparate people who find themselves living through an unfolding catastrophe. These people all turn out to be connected in both direct and indirect ways, therefore their actions all impact on one another and their lives intersect in unexpected ways.
The publisher's blurb outlines the main characters: "Elliot is a first responder in New York, a man running from past failures and struggling to do the right thing. Emma is a pregnant singer preparing to headline a benefit concert for victims of the outbreak–all while questioning what kind of world her child is coming into. Owen is the philandering author of a bestselling plague novel with eerie similarities to the real-life pandemic. As fact and fiction begin to blur, he must decide whether his lifelong instinct for self-preservation has been worth the cost." A host of other characters chime in to tell their stories too.
Nawaz moves back and forth in time, carefully providing back-stories that establish exactly what motivations drive her characters and how much they stand to lose if society succumbs to the unrest that, in her own prophetic words from a recent interview, "is being primed for fear by the 24-hour news cycle and by politicians stoking divisiveness." Sound familiar?
This is such a wise and in-depth study of the human condition and how it either triumphs or fails in the face of impending disaster. Though some parts in the mid-section could have been trimmed a little, the story gradually picks up steam, making the final section so powerful and compelling I found it impossible to put the book down until I was finished.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review



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