It’s getting to be the time of year when you have to start thinking about gifts. Bah. For others. Humbug. Or maybe all this talk about wind farms and / or Amazon Anonymous makes you long for a simpler, pre-tech era. Or perhaps you are just a bibliobibuli, c.f. someone who reads too much. Either way, this seasonal Slugger book club is for you. So pull up an armchair while we discuss classic NI books, past and present.
This week….Kathleen Coyle’s A Flock of Birds.
Who dunnit: Kathleen Coyle, born 1883 in the Maiden City. A suitably challenging childhood (take that Angela’s Ashes), becoming lame following an accident when she was only three years old and a chronic alcoholic father, who frittered away what remained of his family’s wealth. Home schooled and cut off from other children, young Kathleen became a voracious reader. The family home burned to the ground, and Kathleen and her family moved to Liverpool in 1906, where she was briefly a public librarian. Coyle then moved to London and from there to Dublin where in 1915, at the spinsterish age of thirty-two, she married Charles O’Meagher. They had two children, Michele and Kestrel (yes, like the bird), but separated after four years of marriage. Coyle was an activist in the labour and suffragist movements. Right on. She later moved to the continent where she came to know James and Norah Joyce. She published her first novel in 1923, having begun to write in order to make an income and provide for her family (those were the days, when that would have been a valid career choice. Sigh.). In 1937 Coyle and her children moved to New Hampshire. She later lived among other writers in the epicentre of writerly hip, Greenwich Village, New York.
Why is it a classic: A review in The Spectator back when it was first published describes it in glowing terms: “Coyle’s work has quality : it has atmosphere too, but of so rarefied a nature that not all readers will be able to survive it. Her story, dealing with the actions and reactions of the friends of a man who is about to be-hanged, is exquisitely written and full of little, unexpected truths. The beginning, for instance, with its picture of the mother of the condemned man going out of court and noticing every detail of a hat-shop window, is saturated with truth.” Is there a touch of misery memoir in here? No doubt. But Coyle was nothing if not a resilient, talented and independent survivor, so don’t come here seeking silently weeping women and roguish men.
Reasons to Give it a Miss: If the synopsis “The place is Northern Ireland, the year is 1918”, isn’t your cup of tea, then probably best to pass on by. Christy being sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit might scream KEN LOACH FILM to some.
Can I just watch the movie?: Not exactly but there is a very good short film about or more accurately inspired by Kathleen Coyle (Kathleen, 2014), which was made by Susan McWilliam. Not exactly a Hollywood blockbuster but well worth a watch.
Who to buy it for: Proud turban wearers. Strong women. Greenwich village hipster writer afficianados.
What do you think? Top of the list or would you rather get coal in your stocking? Back every week from now til Christmas…ho ho ho etc.