Conversations with FriendsConversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though I'm not the demographic this book is aimed at I had to read this for 2 reasons: I'm Irish and the hype around Rooney.
It's a snapshot in time of a bright, modern, independent, young woman who is coming to terms with getting hurt like a human being tends to do over a certain age, selfishly and cynically. The tone of the book might be off-putting for some as it comes off a bit stuck-up and seems to try to make it seem like it's not. However, modern, independent young (Irish) women are often egotistical and guilty about it, and at that, the book excels at capturing.
All the plaudits are for Rooney, however, she comes from an island where great writers are ten a penny, so its par for the course that she has the ability to so profoundly explore feelings and put them on the page with an Oulipian attention to prose.
I found the love affair to be at times generic, but if we are seeing through the eyes of a young girl it couldn't be anything but that. She's hardly going to be lamenting with a bittersweet pathos now, is she?
I'm proud to come from an island of under 5m people with so many exceptional writers. This book's hype may not live up to it over time, but there's no doubt in me Sally Rooney will prove all her doubters wrong.

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Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous ManToo Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, the hype. It's hard not to see this book as being personal, and with that, you have to take things with a pinch of salt. There are some undeniable facts, Trump has had massive failures, his Vegas casinos, his college, his steaks, and several other efforts including his greatest failure, his reality TV persona: Persident of the United States of America.

I loved that the story going around that he got 1M of Daddy's money was gravely underestimated. It's closer to 400M. Basically, Donald's daddy was punishing his older brother, the author, Mary Trump's father, Freddy, for his decency by giving Donald all the plaudits and resources to take the Trump real estate empire to the next level in Manhattan.

I got the audiobook and it's well narrated. It might be seen as a more important book in the future than it is now as the hype has been a bit of a bubble burst. We might be seeing Trump in jail if his personal accounts ever get released to the public and this book may contribute to seeing him in orange from head to toe in a state-pen jumpsuit.

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Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Call me a cynic, but this book felt contrived or maybe two stories square pegged together. I felt like I was reading about St Trinians or Hogwarts in the first half. I believed I was getting something completely different given the glowing reviews, (should have known, don't trust paid industry reviews). It just didn't feel dystopian at all and nowhere near enough to be believable as that type of book. It's almost as if the book was originally planned to be a memoir-style story and ended up being pretty dull. The publisher or editor got hold of it and suggested spicing it up with a dystopian twist that was all the rage that year.

The whole other side that comes later in the book doesn't feel legit, I felt ripped off being forced to read several pages about a little girl's pony, not that that subject matter isn't riveting! Glad I bought it second hand. For me it's book-industry rubbish. Some may like it, but definitely not for me. Some passages of writing were decent.

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The Judas KissThe Judas Kiss by David Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Writing from inside the mind of a child abuser must have been difficult and it’s obvious in some of Malcolm's parts where Butler uses his imagination to fill in the blanks. But his skill at crafting the story around that is what puts this book up there with literary writers of notable merit.

David Butler writes Malcolm (the said nonce) somewhat poetically and almost sympathetically (bordering on paedophile-apologist) that is unsettling to read. He puts him at the mercy of a callous young yob (Bluebottle) rather than painting him as a predator taking advantage of a damaged, angry teen. It’s this dichotomy that makes the Judas Kiss infinitely readable because it challenges you to see the world through the eyes of people who normalize paedophilia. The mere mention of the word can induce a panic attack, but the Judas Kiss isn’t trying to say ‘oh, look what happened to this poor, vulnerable boy,’ it’s saying ‘there are people in the world like this, did you know that?’

It was only when I got to Malcolm's chapter (and then Fergal’s and Gwendolyn’s) that the story grabbed me. I want to see a writer knows me, knows the people I see, and can capture it in a line, and Butler can do that in his sleep. He thinks in a profound way too, as do many Irish writers. He has a beautiful turn of phrase that you might see in a poetry book, but it skips along rather than taking you out of the story to reread an abstract line as poetic prose can often do.

You also want to know you’re being taking somewhere you’ve never been before, and in the first chapter, as gritty and as well observed as it was, I wasn’t sure if it would be that type of book. But as it turned out, Bluebottle’s opening chapter was the accoutrement to the twisted main course.

Malcolm makes art of his aroused admiration of the book-reading teenage boy from the streets, someone he refers to as his ‘rough diamond’. It can’t be said enough, Butler did a great job in writing in the first-person as a paedophile without using kid gloves (no pun intended)—and simultaneously slipping out of an insinuating noose some might have hung him in for doing so with a deft little line at the start of Malcolm's chapter, ‘I have a remarkable eye for detail,’ which he repeats almost as if to reassure those slow-minded types who might think a writer can only write well on a subject by having first-hand experience.

The story starts out about the free-loading ‘tyke’ (Bluebottle) taking advantage of a toff (Malcolm) who has a deep interest in young boys—Bluebottle being closer to full maturity than his previous ‘rough diamonds’. At first their relationship comes off as a little cartoonish. However, as you read on the sickness seeps in and it dawns on you that’s exactly how it would play out when an older man grooms a young person. Malcolm also seems to groom himself into believing he has a real relationship with the boy; his fights with him not being recognised as a symptom of their respective personal dysfunction but romantically as lovers quarrels. The impact of this kind of layering makes the pages turn and the subject matter hard to pull yourself away from once you get into the story.

The writing is skilled and full of meaning, weaving a dissection of emotions (like jealousy) into well-observed prose, and laying down the rich subtext like slabs of foundation in situ of the story’s driving theme.

I didn’t find myself dying to find out what happened, rather, I enjoyed reading the words on the page. The characters each have their (detached from rationality) idiosyncrasies that are colourful and entertaining in telling the same (folding back on itself in the best way possible) story of Malcolm and Bluebottle, and the structure is equally compelling.

These other characters pick up the story as it rolls on and tell it from their perspective, clarifying vague moments and giving you the payoff later on. I didn't like Fergal, if I had to skip any it was his parts (someone who refers to himself in the third person and speaks like he’s Shakespear’s offspring who’s read all the classics). However, his opening chapter is as stuck-up and pretentious as it gets (joyously so) until he becomes mired by paranoia when Malcolm's secret, that isn’t one to anyone who knows him, begins to weigh heavy. And he constantly laments (poetically), ignoring Malcolm's paedophilia, seemingly considering it less important than his grand ambitions—his ‘art’ (script-writing).

The overall tone is dark and humorous. The conversation between the tight-fisted Malcolm (whom Fergal, the son of Malcolm's deceased friend, calls uncle) and the eloquently destitute Fergal at the start of chapter 3 is entertaining in that a couple of lines from Malcolm, about stuff he’d rather not go into detail about for obvious reasons, are stretched out over several pages during which Fergal pretentiously observes the people Malcolm knows through digressions. But breadcrumbs are always dropped for later.

Gwendolyn is equally accepting of Malcolm's interest in underage boys, (unless around other ‘normal’ people where she seems to abhor what Malcolm is) but it’s never addressed why she isn’t like that in their friendship other than saying how funny it is to look down on someone and then they become entwined in your life, or something to that effect. The world she and Malcolm once inhabited, he somehow finding a way into it without an invite and then becoming a laughing stock and shunned for reasons outside his paedophilia, is a world inhabited by snobs or ‘faded idealists’ who are ‘bilious with sarcasm’.

Gwendolyn is equally stuck-up in her bubble of an art world and divorce-settlement wealth and trips to Provence, but seems to care about Malcolm and at once find him sly, ‘And his hands. Most of all, the forced inconsequentiality of his conversations’, which makes it feel like you aren’t reading about monsters but screwed-up, dysfunctional, lonely, broken people: “Oh, I don’t mean to suggest that it was a surprise he should like boys. There was nothing more natural than that his penchant should incline towards the younger male.” I just hope The Judas Kiss wasn’t inspired by real events or people.

Butler has a unique mind for creating interesting, visual prose: ‘A rind of a moon’, ‘the heart was skipping inside of me like a trapped bird’, ‘The face had approached so close that I could see the powder on it like dust on a moth’. I’m left wondering why so many other Irish writers get all the plaudits. The only thing I can think of (for this book) is that despite the characters having their own perspective, their voices did feel a bit homogeneous with an almost Edwardian tone to them (even Bluebottle had moments: ‘I returned after quite an interval’). That being said, theses characters are each other’s circle and all are deluded about themselves and the world, Bluebottle likely becoming influenced by them by proxy of his disadvantage. Either way, this is a spellbinding story with unique character-observations and beautiful sections of prose.

The Judas Kiss leaves its mark on you and it should be read by everyone (especially in Ireland) as there is an unhealthy avoidance in tackling the subject of paedophilia head-on in society. The mere mention of the word sends people running for the hills, and that opens the door to a normalization of it, as shown through Malcolm and the other characters acceptance. Saying you’re outraged and doing nothing is representative of the handling of paedophiles who (as alluded to in the book) get rid of abused children if they threaten to speak out.

It might be Bluebottle and Malcolm's story, but at its core, the Judas Kiss is about our pretence that keeps the darker side of human nature veiled by how we prefer to see ourselves.
Five Stars.

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Night Boat to TangierNight Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kevin Barry is a bit of a literary phenomenon in Ireland and as a writer it's hard to be critical without feeling you might hinder your writing career. The man can write, his lyrical prose is always playful and punchy. If he was black and lived in Atlanta he'd be rapping over trap beats. I see his prose as existing in a unique space between music, poetry, and the short story. But he ain't black, he's ginger and lives in a lovely part of Sligo, so of course he writes about shady people, mostly criminals.

I liked Night Boat to Tangier for sections of prose and the premise. However, I found it less entertaining, enlightening, or engaging as a story. You read Kevin Barry for the writing. The plot in Dark Lies the Island was great, and the film was pretty good. As for this book, I couldn't get into it. I wanted to like it because I like his writing, but it felt like a short, or a couple of shorts, stretched out and wedged into one book.

I see why he got the Booker nod, there were some soaring parts, the concept of two men waiting for one of their children was unique, but he says it himself, short stories are his forte. Read it for the writing.

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