Saturday, 21 March 2015

Irish Fiction Week Guest Review: Liz McManus - A Shadow in the Yard

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

When a swan lands in the yard of Rosaleen McAvady’s home on Lough Swilly, it is trapped by its narrow confines and cannot escape. She asks her elderly neighbour, Tom Mundy, for help, and unwittingly sets off a chain of events that will have far-reaching repercussions. 

After a brief career as an architect, Rosaleen has settled for marriage and children. Life is secure and predictable, but she now finds herself longing to stretch her wings.

Dramatic political upheaval in Northern Ireland soon casts its shadow and, though such events seem to have no relevance to her life, Rosaleen realizes that, beneath the placid surface of her world, violence and betrayal threaten all she holds dear.

Like the swan in the yard, can she hope for escape or must she be trapped forever?

Amazon links: Kindle or Paperback

A Shadow in the Yard is only the second novel from Irish author Liz McManus. After a long gap of over eighteen years between this and her first release Acts of Subversion way back in 1992 Liz is back with a deep insightful novel into the times of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This book comes from Ward River Press an imprint of our beloved national publisher here in Ireland - Poolbeg. I have a been a huge fan of Poolbeg and everything they have published for as long as I can remember always reading each new release as soon as it is published. Some of my favourite Irish authors first found their home here, our national treasure Marian Keyes being one of them. With this new imprint the company appears to be moving away from what they normally publish and this is no harm as with the advent of the Kindle and lots of new genres it is important to keep up to speed with the fast moving times of the publishing world.

A Shadow in the Yard was a different read for me,it was a short enough book although I couldn't say I flew through it despite reading it in an afternoon. It wasn't an easy read but I mean that in a good way. It required me to think an awful lot about things I wouldn't have given much thought to before. The book opens in the winter of 1970 as Tom Mundy begins his morning stroll with his dog on the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal. It is the night after a big storm and the landscape has changed. Tom stumbles across a body in the shallows of the water. It is a young woman, a woman who has been missing for quite some time. It is the body of his neighbour Rosaleen. We step back in time to the summer of 1969 and we get to know Rosaleen and her family, her husband Kevin and children Aoife and Conor. Rosaleen is troubled by something but what we do not know and this tension and worry permeates the entire novel.In fact the author just built and built the tension until I could stand it no more. Finally it reached it's height and boom the conclusion to part one of this book was so shocking but what worries me most is that this probably did happen more often than not in the North at that time.

On the surface Rosaleen should be happy with her life, a lovely house near the lough, her beautiful family living the idyllic country life that most people can only dream of. But underneath it all she is struggling and has a deep sense of dissatisfaction. She knows even her friend can see there is something troubling her 'She saw the trouble in my face, even though I thought my trouble was so deep that it couldn't show'. She craves the freedom like the swan that Tom Mundy releases from her yard. Added to the tension and turmoil our main character is experiencing is the background as to what is going on in the country at the time. Despite living in Donegal, Derry is only over the boarder and the troubles of the time make themselves known to Rosaleen and her family. As a means of achieving some freedom and self satisfaction Rosaleen takes a job in an architects office in Derry. Of course Kevin is not happy about this as he is of the standard opinion that a women’s place is in the home. Through her travels around the city cataloguing buildings Rosaleen encounters a love from her time in university. Manus reignites something in Rosaleen something she thought was buried and would never come to the surface again. But does she give into temptation or can she comprehend that family are the most important and as a woman with children surely she should put them first.

I wondered in the beginning why was Tom in the book apart from discovering the body in the opening but as we delved deeper into the story his role became more clear. It is evident that everyone in this book had secrets to hide even  the most ordinary of characters who at first seemed perfectly normal. Reading about the troubles in the North was eye opening, I know I live in Ireland but where I live is the total opposite end of the country and at times we can block things from our minds if they seem far away. It made me really think about the numerous people who went missing during the troubles and how they were never heard from again. Another thing that really struck me with this book was how times have certainly changed for women and how far we have come. Imagine it being frowned upon if you wanted to go out to work but in some ways Ireland has come very far and in others ways not so much.

I felt the book was going along at a nice gently pace building and building to the dramatic conclusion to part one, that when we switched to part two I kind of lost interest. We fast forward to 1998 to Dublin where Aoife is now grown up and working in a veterinary practice whilst having an affair with the vet. I can see why the author choose to do this - to see how earlier events in Aoife's life shaped her future. But being honest I didn't really care about Aoife and she came across as selfish and still full of woe and anger towards the world. In a way I'm glad this section was short. You can't go wrong in giving this book a go as part of Irish Fiction Week it's different from the usual women's fiction offered by Poolbeg/Ward River Press and I am glad I took the chance on this one. It provided me with a beautifully written strong storyline that continued throughout. A Shadow in the Yard is an absorbing, intriguing book with a female character who I am still thinking about today. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending this deep,absorbing book to any reader.

Many thanks to Poolbeg for sending me copy of this book to review.

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