O’CONNELL DIVES DEEP TO DELIVER A PEARL OF A DEBUT

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According to Forbes, in 2021 a quarter of the world’s 2,755 billionaires live in just ten cities. They are Hangzou at 10, San Francisco, Mumbai, London, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Moscow, Hong Kong, New York, with Beijing at number one having the largest number of billionaires 100. Surprisingly, the city where this month’s second book review is set, is not there. Dubai (10 Billionaires – Arabianbusiness.com) has a population of over 3 million, of which eighty five percent are foreign nationals. It is home to the tallest building in the world – The Burg Khalifa, which has featured in one of the most successful movie franchises, and that movie’s most iconic scene forms a small part of the storyline. Also, when you compare Dubai to the other top ten cities above, none of their police forces cruise around in top of the range super cars. Although there is a lot that cannot be done there, that you can probably get away with in most of the others. PDAs for example, swearing, and failure…The book is Diving for Pearls by Jamie O’Connell and published by Doubleday (www.penguin.co.uk) on the 3rd June.

When the body of a Muslim girl, the daughter of a rich influential Emirate family is found floating in the marina in downtown Dubai, the lives of six people from various backgrounds are altered. Each one has come to Dubai, drawn by its bright lights, warm weather, and the promise of a new Life. Trevor a young Irish man who is hoping to escape a troubled past, Lydia a Russian sex worker trying to outsmart the system. While Tahir, a Pakistani taxi driver, dreams of a future for his children back home. Then there’s Aasim, the brother of the victim, who desperately tries to deal with the grief while also hiding who he really is from is family, and finally an Ethiopian maid, Gete, begins to carve out a new life. But Dubai breaks its promises, and in a city of mirages, where the cultures of East and West collide, how do you find your way out…

 Wow, I have just spent the past week reading this book while enduring a mini heatwave in Ireland. So, at times I really felt like I was in Dubai, albeit even if I were reading it in October or January, I’d probably feel the heat coming off the page. That’s not all that drips off the page, there’s the glorification of wealth and its trappings and the lifestyle that are part and parcel of this city, courtesy of O’Connell’s writing.

The book is a guaranteed page turner from the prologue all the way to the end of the epilogue, three hundred and thirty-two pages later. What you get inside this book is a gritty and harrowing expose of life, behind the glare of the skyscrapers, the opulence, and the heat. While also dealing excellently with the topic of emigration and how we struggle to find ourselves in a new environment, while adjusting to its cultural differences.

What we discover about the pearl of the UAE, is unlike most of bright, glamourous cities around the world, which have a triple class system, Dubai essentially has two, the Rich and the poor. Although there is a subclass in the rich grouping – according to one of the characters in the book, “no matter how wealthy you are, there’s always someone richer”. While the poor are the maids and waiters, bell hops and taxi drivers who eke out a living, making sure that the needs and whims of the wealthy are met, while accepting the varying degrees of mistreatment as part of your lot.

But it is under the draconian religious rules by which the city and UAE is governed, that all citizens are essentially equal as they fearfully try to toe the line. This is where O’Connell’s story flourishes as the six main characters deal with the ripple effects of the death of this young girl and the dramatic turn of events it will have on their lives both directly and indirectly.

As for the character themselves, each is depicted with such depth and realism that you can almost feel their pulse, the heat and sweat running off their bodies and the hurt and pain they feel from this event and having to deal with the authorities. This depth allows the reader to sympathise with them and their varying situations.

Another great thing about this book is the death itself and the mystery that surrounds it, O’Connell allows the reader to draw their own conclusions as to how or what led to the girl’s untimely demise, for the main premise is the repercussions, and even after you turn the final page, you are left to wonder about the next chapter for all concerned.  

Jamie O’Connell (independent.ie)

This is the debut novel of Irish writer Jamie O’Connell (@jamieoconnell). Previously he has had short stories “Highly Commended” by the Costa Short Story Award and the Irish Book Award Short Story of the Year. He’s also been longlisted for the BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines Short Story Competition and shortlisted for the Maeve Binchy Travel Award. Jamie has an MFA and MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin and has worked for the likes of Penguin Random House, Gill Books and O’Brien Press.

There are no downsides to this book, only the anticipation that I’m feeling already for Jamie’s next book. In this one I have found an author who has seamlessly moved from short storyteller to novelist and is now perfectly at home among the stable of new Irish writing talent. Before that, this book may have just jumped to the top of my book group selection for November.

So, if you are looking for a brilliantly written book for your weekend reading or staycation beach read, then dive into your wallet and order a copy online or head down to your local book shop and snap up a copy.

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought. Visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We would really appreciate the feedback.

PINE, NEEDLES INITIALLY, BEFORE SPELLBINDING THIS READER

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Pine CoverIn my twenties and thirties, I spent pretty much every free moment in Scotland. I was a bit of a Scotland-ophile. I think I knew more about the history and folklore of Scotland than of England. I was therefore surprised not to recognise I was in Scotland during the opening pages of this months second book review, but instead thought the book was set in some remote American state.The book is Pine by Francine Toon and is published by Doubleday (https://www.penguin.co.uk/company/publishers/transworld/doubleday.html) on the 23rd January.

In the story we meet Lauren, the main character, whose mother disappeared almost ten years ago. Father and daughter live alone in a remote highland village surrounded by pine forest. Lauren uses her tarot cards to hopefully find the answer to her mum’s disappearance and the secrets in her dads turbulent mind, while the locals know more than they’ll admit.

When a local teenager goes missing, it’s no longer clear who she can trust. She lives in this isolated Scottish community where everyone seems to be hiding something. Strange things seem to be happening, omens and paranormal activity. Are these all part of the loss and day to day struggles Lauren and her father face? Or this there something more sinister at play?

The realisation that I was reading a book set in Scotland dawned on me with a jolt quite a few pages in. The reference to Moray Firth radio had slipped under my radar amidst the references to pick-ups, trick or treating and Aerosmith. The Scottish names didn’t even seem out of context due to the large Scotland to American emigration of previous centuries. So then I wondered is this an American author? No, wrong again! Francine Toon is a Scot. Maybe I should read the backcover blurb occasionally, you might suggest? But its interesting to avoid doing that and just take your impressions from the story itself. Its illuminating to realise how often the blurb misleads or would have occasionally had led me to dismiss a great book altogether. Its not something I practice religiously, especially having been caught out by great “unfinished” novels before.

Anyway, Pine is complete. No worries there. The book its self is a gem of a find. A satisfying ending concludes a long and twisting journey. It’s difficult to know whether to class it as a thriller, murder mystery, supernatural tale or modern fairy-tale as it encompasses all these genres. There were a few modern references which linked it to recent times but I felt it could have been set in previous decades quite easily as the story seems quite timeless in many respects. The father raising his child alone, a small town full of gossip, bullies, a sense on foreboding with the addition of supernatural phenomena and legend.

Francine Toon Author Picture

Francine Toon

I’ve noticed there seems to be a current, Game of Thrones inspired penchant for all things fairy tale, legend and mythology, or my husband should vary his book choices a bit more. I’ve recently reviewed Fox fire and Wolfskin, a collection of modern feminist fairytales by Sharon Blackie and Lancelot by Giles Kristian about the eponymous mythical Knight. Plus scanning the Goodreads top books for this month alone, I find about a quarter of them could be said to have foundations in myths, fantasy and folklore. However, although this is Francine Toon’s first novel, her previous poetical prowess means her writing is assured and atmospheric. The book is intense and absorbing.  Again, if I’d read the blurb before beginning, I might have been agitated that the disappearance of the teenager it mentions doesn’t actually occur until the book is three quarters over but Toon is building empathy with her main characters and immersing you in their world. I could feel the cold, smell the smells and felt my heart sink as the world spun out of control after the disappearance, when suspicion and rumour started to take hold.

This is Scottish born author Francine Toon’s (www.francinetoon.com) Debut novel. She’s used to having poetry published in The Sunday Times and various anthologies, under the name Francine Elena. Her day job is a commissioning editor for Sceptre Books, while working and living in London.

My only reservation was whether Lauren’s mother would have local suspicions of witchcraft with her new age thinking, crystals, massage and tarot cards in this modern age. I suppose she certainly would have been seen as exotic and odd in a remote community. It was the only thing that jarred slightly. As I’ve mentioned on Library Door before, My mum thinks Yoga is ‘out there’ and hippy so maybe I’m putting my own fairly open minded perceptions about the supernatural into that opinion.

A fairy tale start to the year from Francine Toon. Sinister, gothic and a little bit scary, like all the best stories. I note its already been recommended as the read for January by the Irish Independent. I’m sure it will do well. So, get down to your local book shop and snap up a copy or conjure it up online and start reading it before the stretch in the evenings get longer and the ideal atmosphere for this book is then at midnight under your duvet with a torch.

 

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy ,comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d love to hear your feedback.

 

Pine BT Poster