Tag Archives: Ireland

Clár Ní Chonghaile, Fractured


A young, but experienced, investigative journalist is captured by a group of bandits in Mogadishu, Somalia. The group is hoping to sell him to an Islamist group that control parts of Somalia, assuming a good ransom can be obtained from his employer or family.

The story of what got him there and what happens following the kidnapping is told from three points of view, those of the journalist, of a Somali teenager who guards him, and of the journalist’s mother.

What characterizes this book is the careful exploration of the web of human relationships that affect one’s sense of self. This is done for all three characters whose point of view is shared. Parents, siblings, extended family, partners and strangers are part of that web. In the complex relationships we develop with the people that surround us on a daily basis or that we meet in fleeting encounters, we get a sense of who we are by contrast with what we see of them and through our responses to them.

Some of these relationships are somewhat harmonious and continuous; others are “fractured” or contain fault lines that make them more fragile or more treacherous to negotiate. If we superimpose those “fractured” relationships to a “fractured” society such as Somalia, we get the rich material that this novel is made of.

Some aspects of this book, especially the description of the conditions of detention and of the contacts with the kidnappers was reminiscent of Amanda Lindhout’s memoir A House in the Sky with some important differences, given the single point of view of the memoir, the much longer detention and the torture Ms. Lindhout was subjected to.



Ní Chonghaile, Clár. Fractured. Legend Press, London, UK, 2016.

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Edna O’Brien, The Little Red Chairs


This is my first book by this celebrated Irish author who has lived most of her life in London, but from whom I have heard she is a keen critique of Irish society, especially the claustrophobic aspects related to Catholicism and small town life, probably not unlike what we could have said about life in my native Québec some decades ago…

This book, however, has a very different twist, as it is set in recent times and features a number of issues, one of which is the clash between quiet small town Irish life and the intrusion of the outside world in the guise of a mysterious foreigner who ends up being the source of transgression, scandal, and as we later find out, utmost evil.

A stranger arrives in the small town looking for lodgings and later opens a business advertising himself as a healer. He gathers some following amongst the women of the town and eventually makes one of them his lover, with tragic consequences.

When the stranger is arrested and the scandal is revealed, the lover has to leave town, to start in new life in London, in a motley group of refugees, battered women, and the kind souls that seek to help them. And quite ironically, the man the town knew as a healer was a war criminal in hiding.

After a time, the stranger is being judged as a war criminal in The Hague, and the lover travelled to the city to witness the trial and to attempt to cleanse herself of the rage that fills her. I imagine she finds some peace there, enough to go back to her life in London, and to find some fulfillment in being an active member of the community she now belongs to by choice, rather than by obligation or tradition.

I found the tone of the book to be quite dreamy, as if Fidelma, the main character, did not quite connect with people, including her husband and the women that she could consider her friends, in her life of conformity before the stranger showed up, as if there was something different about her that made difficult to belong. And that in spite of the gruesomeness of the attack that led to her flight from Ireland, it was one the keys that enabled her to find a greater sense of meaning, as in the end meaning and music come out of cacophony. The final chapter is called “Home” and starts with the sentence “I am not a stranger here anymore.”  Survival takes many different forms.

The title refers to the 2012 Sarajevo Red Line Project, where red chairs were lined up in the city to remember the victims of the siege of 1992-1996.

I had bought Edna O’Brien’s 2013 memoir Country Girl – A Memoir when it was published but did not get very far into it. Not knowing any of the author’s work did not make it appealing. I am certainly looking forward to it now, as well as to reading some of the earlier works. The writing was just beautiful, using all the senses to create unforgettable moments.


O’Brien, Edna. The Little Red Chairs. Faber & Faber, London, 2015.

O’Brien, Edna. Country Girl – A Memoir. Little, Brown, New York, 2012.

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