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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 21 December 2019

"Strumpet City" by James Plunkett

The story of some interlinked lives in Dublin in the years before the First World War. There are rich people such as Mr Bradshaw who own gerry-built tenements, and his well-meaning but ineffectual wife, and their friend Mr Yearling, an employer who sympathises with the poor workers. There are the priests: Father O'Connor, blinded by his faith to the material hunger of his parishioners (to the extent of kidnapping children who are being sent by their parents to Liverpool so they don't starve to prevent them being sent into Protestant homes), Father Gilchrist, his poor-sympathising superior who is sinking into alcoholism, and Father O'Sullivan who does modest good. And there are the legions of the poor: Mary who loses her job as maid to the Bradshaws and becomes the wife of Fitz, a foundry worker, who is best friend to Pat who has fallen in love with good-hearted prostitute Lily; there are the others who live in their tenement: Hennesey who can never hold down a job but fathers a growing brood on his anxious wife; Rashers, beggar and busker, who lives in the basement with his dog Rusty; and Mulhall, a man so vigorous you can never imagine him going sick.

The theme of the book is the battle between the workers, striking for better wages, and the employers, determined to resist them. The backdrop is poverty and hunger. There are good people and there are bad people. Tragedies happen and there is happiness. The key of a good book is whether I wanted to read to the end to find out what happened ... and I did. The key to a good book is whether it contains moments that make you sit back and reflect upon the world ... and it did (they are below). But it sometimes felt a bit worthy and a bit preachy; there was no question who was right and who was wrong.

Great moments:
BOOK ONE 1907–1909
Chapter 1
  • Mrs. Bradshaw, in her efforts to stifle a scream, continued to pour strong tea over the tablecloth for some seconds.
  • Almost from birth she had shaped his mind to regard life as a trivial moment which had slipped by mistake through the sieve of eternity, a scrap of absurdity which would glow for a little while before it was snatched back into eternity again.
  • She thought, a little wistfully, that a touch of human weakness in her husband would have been nice, her husband who was so good but at times so meticulous, at times so grumpy with rectitude.
  • The rockets made a playground of the sky.
Chapter 2
  • ‘The poor are generally regarded as being more religious than the rich,’ Yearling continued, ‘but of course that isn’t true. They are simply more impressionable and have less to lose.’”
Chapter 3
  • In this country the ones that don’t fight are not worth your attention and the ones that do bring nothing but heartbreak.
Chapter 4
  • Miss Gilchrist’s partial paralysis remained, until in the end Mr. Bradshaw made up his mind. Her removal to the workhouse upset Mrs. Bradshaw for several months.”
Chapter 6
  • To get married. To sleep in the sweat of one bed and deposit in due time a few more animal faces among the dirt and the dilapidation.
Chapter 9
  • But he had come to see that the security itself was a mirage; people he did not know and would never meet decided its extent and continuance for reasons that suited only themselves. He and the others did not count.”

BOOK TWO 1910–1912
Chapter 1

  • You were never so destitute that the only piece of property you ever owned was your poor body.
Chapter 4
  • I’m a Catholic. I don’t want to be made ashamed of my Church.
  • The poorer and hungrier they were, the less fitted to stand up against weather. The poorer and the hungrier, the more often they had to face it.
  • That was one good thing about religion. No one owned it. No one could put a wall around it and lock the gate on you.
Chapter 5
  • Horses, when you worked with them for a long time, he thought, were like any other working mate. Some were lazy and forgetful, some had good humours and bad, some were inexhaustible and patient and long suffering, pulling loads without flinching until the great heart inside them burst.
  • But you couldn’t stop them using machinery. Machinery meant more profit, and profit was the beginning and the end of everything. Roads and bridges and buildings would be reduced to rubble wherever they impeded profit. Men would be laid off and children would go hungry. For the sake of the machines families would know want.
  • There is no such thing as companionship ... when it comes to coping with the melancholy intimations of Anno Domini.”
Chapter 6
  • the gardens of the well-to-do he despised as so many useless acres of multi-coloured vegetation.”
  • When you were destitute nothing lucky ever happened. The more you were in want, the more you’d go without ... if it was raining soup, you’d have nothing but a fork.
Chapter 7
  • The great thing was not to be clever but to have Faith."

BOOK THREE 1913–1914 
Chapter 6
  • Socialism, as a very eminent Jesuit has clearly shown, is the worst enemy of the working man. It uproots his confidence in hierarchical order. It preaches discontent. It makes him covetous of the property of his social superiors, and impatient with the trials and obligations of his own station in life.
Chapter 8
  • There was a time when he had intended to grow a beard because it seemed a pity not to give expression to one’s total potentiality.
Chapter 9
  • Poverty, he had noticed before, had its own peculiar smell. A man’s station could be judged by what the body exhaled. Expensive odours of brandy and cigars; sour odours of those who nourished nature with condensed milk and tea.
Chapter 11
  • the cupped depression worn in the granite flag at the entrance gate by countless churchgoing feet.

December 2019

Irish fiction reviewed in this blog:

  • Strumpet City by James Plunkett: a book about the poor in Dublin in the early 20th Century
  • Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: the sequel to Angela's Ashes: an Irish exile in New York
  • Dubliners by James Joyce: the classic short stories
  • Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgworth: a classic first published in 1800
  • Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle: a boy grows up in Ireland
  • The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan: set in the recession of the early 21st Century

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