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Reading in the Dark: A Novel

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Reading in the Dark: A Novel [Paperback]

Seamus Deane
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 24, 1998
A New York Times Notable Book
Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize
Winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award and International Award

"A swift and masterful transformation of family griefs and political violence into something at once rhapsodic and heartbreaking. If Issac Babel had been born in Derry, he might have written this sudden, brilliant book."
--Seamus Heaney

Hugely acclaimed in Great Britain, where it was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and short-listed for the Booker, Seamus Deane's first novel is a mesmerizing story of childhood set against the violence of Northern Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s.

The boy narrator grows up haunted by a truth he both wants and does not want to discover. The matter: a deadly betrayal, unspoken and unspeakable, born of political enmity. As the boy listens through the silence that surrounds him, the truth spreads like a stain until it engulfs him and his family. And as he listens, and watches, the world of legend--the stone fort of Grianan, home of the warrior Fianna; the Field of the Disappeared, over which no gulls fly--reveals its transfixing reality. Meanwhile the real world of adulthood unfolds its secrets like a collection of folktales: the dead sister walking again; the lost uncle, Eddie, present on every page; the family house "as cunning and articulate as a labyrinth, closely designed, with someone sobbing at the heart of it."

Seamus Deane has created a luminous tale about how childhood fear turns into fantasy and fantasy turns into fact. Breathtakingly sad but vibrant and unforgettable, Reading in the Dark is one of the finest books about growing up--in Ireland or anywhere--that has ever been written.

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Derry of poet Seamus Deane's first novel, Reading in the Dark is a perilous place. Ghosts haunt the stairwells of apartment buildings, a curse follows two families down through the generations, close friends turn out to be police informers, and the police are as likely to persecute an innocent man as protect him. And hovering over all the violence, poverty, and despair of 1940s Northern Ireland is the specter of the "Troubles." The hero of the novel is an unnamed young man whose life turns upside down when a policeman frames him. Deception becomes his only means of self-defense. But the initial lie on the part of the policeman and the narrator's corresponding trickery are only part of the tangled web Deane weaves here. Early in the novel we learn that Uncle Eddie, an Irish Republican Army gunman, was blown up in the town distillery in 1922. In addition to sorting out his own problems, the narrator seeks the truth about his uncle's death.

Reading in the Dark sounds grim, and in some respects it is, yet leavening is provided by infusions of the Irish folktales and legends that inform the characters' daily life. And then there is the language. Deane is a poet, and his prose shows it: sex is like fire, "glinting with greed and danger"; ice snores and candles are swathed in a "thick drapery of wax." Readers looking for a thoughtful, serious, and beautifully written novel will find one in Reading in the Dark. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Deane is a poet and a celebrated literary historian, and this, his first novel, was deservedly shortlisted for England's Booker prize last year (it did win the Guardian Fiction Prize). At first glance, it covers familiar turf: an Irish family riven by the political strife of the 1920s trying to live with the legacy of bloodshed and betrayal?all seen through the eyes of a sensitive young boy as he looks back 20 years later. But Deane has a poet's eye, which transforms the most everyday material into something eternally rich and strange: "The rain lifted away, the sunlight lay piebald on the path for a brief time, then the rain shuttered us in again." And he watches the long struggles of the family with the same kind of patient endurance they themselves display. Gradually, their story emerges from the mists in which it has been wrapped for a generation: an uncle who in family legend had fled to Chicago had in fact been executed, mistakenly, as an informer on the IRA by members of his own family; the real informer, who had been loved by the boy's mother and had briefly married her sister, had escaped, tipped off by the police. Mother and father each know some of the story, and realize that knowing all of it will drive them apart; their life together is a long, loving grief. All this is glimpsed by the narrator in hints and flashes, combined with hilarious surges of comic relief?a lecture on the facts of life by a well-meaning priest, an incomprehensible math lesson at school, the brisk tirades of a local madman, a sly way of getting back at a hated policeman by way of the bishop. In Deane's hands, the language leaps and quivers, and the life he illuminates is at once achingly sad and transfixingly real. 35,000 first printing.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage International (February 24, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375700234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375700231
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Triumph November 1, 2000
By A Customer
Seamus Deane is a wonderful poet as well as a historian and
anthologist of Irish literature. Reading in the Dark, however, is his
first novel. It is both a triumph of literature and of the human
spirit; one of the most beautiful books anyone could ever hope to
Deane, like James Joyce, is a writer who cannot be separated
from his native Ireland. Reading in the Dark is the first-person
narrative of a boy, who, like Deane, grew up in Derry in the 1940s and
1950s. Although the dust jacket says this book is a novel, it reads
more like a beautiful, meditative and intensely personal memoir. We
are never told the boy/narrator's name, but there are many named
characters in the book: Ellis, Una, Dierdre, Liam, Gerard, Eamon.
There is an Uncle Manus and an Aunt Katie. Additonally, the place
names serve to identify this as an unquestionalby Irish book, taking
place in Derry.
The structure of Reading in the Dark is deliberately
jagged but never jarring. There are short chapters that are further
divided into ever shorter episodes. We are introduced to all of the
narrator's many borthers and sisters but only one, Liam, becomes a
major character throughout the course of the book. The other
characters deliberately come and go and some are even forgettable,
while others are not.
The first vignette is dated "February
1945" and the last "July 1971." All the other vignettes
fall within this time frame. But Derry, the reader must remember, is
in Northern Ireland, where the past can never really be separated from
the present.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brave New Ireland February 28, 2001
Reading in the Dark might merely have been one more "miserable Irish childhood" story, sandwiched between Angela's Ashes and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, and dismissed. Seamus Deane's unnamed boy author -- nameless, it seems, because his world can't be bothered to notice him -- fits squarely between Frank McCourt and Paddy Clarke in era and in social class. He does not suffer Frank's horrific poverty, nor does he own the books that he reads, as Paddy does. The boy's life in a large working-class Catholic family, with its minimal adult supervision, at least one parent who cannot cope, cruel priests for teachers, and the necessary string of funerals, initially seems to be heading down the literary path to deja-vu.
Seamus Deane, born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1940, and now a professor at the University of Notre Dame, rescues his first novel from this downward spiral with his ability to transform stereotypical storylines into shattering new tales. Deane masterfully subverts the IRA theme of glory and honour; of fighting and dying for Ireland. He gives us the story of the narrator's Uncle Eddie, introduced as an IRA hero who either escaped from or was killed in a shoot-out with Protestant policemen, but who has not been seen or heard from since.
Deane plays with this contrived, glorious IRA getaway story, tempting the reader to take the anecdote at face value, to romanticize Eddie as a hero. He then inserts a twist -- we learn that Eddie does not have a hero's reputation outside of his family, but is seen as a police informer, a "stooly," by the Catholic community. This reputation stains Eddie's entire family, including the nephew that he never met.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a Poignant Memoir February 14, 2002
By A Customer
This beautiful book reads more like a poignant and heartbreaking memoir than a novel. It's difficult to believe the incidents described are really fiction and not the author's reality...they are described so well and in just the right detail.
Reading in the Dark is a story of ghosts, of legends, and most of all, of secrets...Irish secrets. The narrator, whose name we never learn, struggles to unravel the truth of those secrets and as he does, he learns what it really means to grow up in Northern Ireland, surrounded by the shadows of political turmoil.
Although I really didn't identify with any of the characters in this book, I found them very engrossing and came to care about them deeply. Some of the characters are quite well-fleshed out while others remain only fragments of the author's imagination. Most make only brief appearances in the novel, although one, Liam, shares the spotlight with the unnamed narrator.
Reading in the Dark is a different sort of coming-of-age story. It is beautiful, lyrical, brutal and truly unforgettable. And truly the work of an Irish mind.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grim and Charming, Funny and Sad May 4, 2001
Seamus Deane has added another fine book to the amazing collection of novels looking at Ireland and the Irish in the twentienth century. The most delightful and charming aspect of Reading in the Dark is the voice of its unnamed narrator as he struggles to understand the world he is growing up in (Northern Ireland in the 1950's). Every situation can have so many solutions to him, some mundane, most wondrous. It is surprising how much humour can be found in the life led by this boy, as written by Mr. Deane. The wit of the writing helps cushion the reader for all the very many sadnesses and horrors which occur throughout the book. The reader and the narrator will together learn to navigate this world and survive. An effective and powerful read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Meh
I am an avid reader but just couldn't get into this book. Just my opinion.
Published 13 days ago by Fussy
2.0 out of 5 stars but book's interior monologue style gets boring after the first bit
Interesting subject, but book's interior monologue style gets boring after the first bit.
Published 13 days ago by StridertheRanger
3.0 out of 5 stars I liked the Journal style that this was written in.
I loved the style that this was written in, it felt like a journal, and made for a quick read. At times though, I definitely couldn't tell how much time had passed and at the point... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Brittny Brumley
4.0 out of 5 stars Melancholy Soul of Ireland
Deane has constructed a novel of short discrete vignettes whose every word is so painstakingly chosen that the results read like poetry. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Ginger B.
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
ok book
Published 13 months ago by gail ryan
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVE IRISH writers, especially Seamus Deane
I don't have enough good things to say about this book. I LOVE this book.
Published 15 months ago by Molly Helen Touchton
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading in the Dark
Very nice book. Highly recommended
Published 16 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary
This book is simply extraordinary. It demands to be read in a single sitting and then re-read again and again over time. Read more
Published 19 months ago by ScipioColumbus
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, haunting book
I really liked the intertwining history and family stories. Poignant description of Ireland's struggles in the 40s and 50s. A beautifully written coming-of-age story.
Published on April 19, 2014 by Vera Gene Miller
2.0 out of 5 stars Dark Irish novel
Was probably a memoir.? Very complex, super and colorful writing, sometimes difficult to follow....told a lot about Irish customs and culture.
Published on March 22, 2014 by Stella Dawn
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