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Poignant novel set mainly off the coast of GALWAY

11th March 2022

The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually by Helen Cullen, novel set mainly off the coast of Galway.

novel set mainly off the coast of GALWAY

The setting of Inis Óg is inspired by the author’s childhood visit to Inis Oírr. She chose not to use the actual island because she wanted the creative freedom that a fictional island would offer. She says: “I would have become too shackled by an obsession to get every detail perfectly right if I were to place the book there, and I felt that the restrictions would have impeded my ability to let the narrative flow.” Her fictional island is set off the coast of Galway. You can read about her thoughts in The Irish Times.

This is the story of the Moone family from the 1970s though to the mid 2010s, how the parents Murtagh and Maeve met, how Murtagh’s vocation as a potter took them to the island of Inis Óg. It picks up with the story of their four children growing up as they find a place in the world. As a family they have to contend with a huge and difficult event in the earlier years, which affects each of them in different ways.

This is a beautifully told story of family, crafted by a gifted storyteller, who captures the nuanced interactions of people co-existing and sharing a future. There is colour and definition, a poignant story of love and loss, and issues around mental health, all subtly rendered in the warm tones of a thoughtful observer. There is humanity in this story that is very involving, saturated as it is with the atmosphere of Ireland, first Dublin and the island of Inis Óg. The storms are graphic, the daily life on the island is distinct, the sea in its various moods is well captured, and descriptions of the children having to travel by boat to the mainland for school really emphasise the remote nature of the setting. It is truly beautifully rendered.

Murtagh is a potter and towards the end of the novel, a particular piece of pottery he has created lies in shards. He understands the practise of Kintsugi, (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”) which is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum, creating a whole new piece, threaded through with glinting lines. It may not be the same item as originally conceived, but it has morphed into a new creation incorporating the wear and tear of its history in a beautiful and mindful way. He repairs his very special pot and in its own way he embarks on a healing process which allows him to look forward.

The ending itself is really wonderfully pulled together. I had a slight hesitancy about buying into it because I didn’t feel the foundations for that ending had truly been laid. But as an overall read, this is just beautiful and a really good choice for anyone – among other things – looking for a book set in Ireland.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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