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.

ENRIGHT’S GREEN ROAD IS SO FAR OFF THE BEATEN TRACK, EVEN YOUR SAT NAV WOULD TELL YOU TO AVOID IT

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green-road cvrA couple of weeks ago my Fiancée and I went to a local Tapas restaurant, we’d been given a voucher by a neighbour for rescuing their cat from being savaged by dogs in the wee small hours of a Saturday morning a couple of weeks previously. The cat subsequently died en route to a 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital. Anyway back to the Tapas restaurant, my Fiancée doesn’t get Tapas, as opposed to ordinary restaurants where you read the menu and order a dish for starters, main course and desert. Whereas in Tapas it’s basically order small dishes from all over the menu as often as you want until you feel full. Me I was brought up by a father who told me to go through life with an open mind and equally broad palate. My Fiancée on the other hand will never get Tapas and that’s fine, because that brings me to this month’s book. It’s The Green Road by Anne Enright.

Anne is a local author, well she was until recently, when  she moved from Bray further into south County Dublin. Like my fiancée and Tapas, I’ve never liked Anne’s work and probably never will. It may come down to the fact, that I believe there is a lot to being Irelands Inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction then winning The Booker. There are bigger and better Irish writers out there who’ve never won an  award and are more deserving of this title – One swallow does not a summer make.

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Anne Enright – On Bray beach

 

The book deals with emigration and the family and how it grows apart as time goes by. Rosaleen Madigan is an elderly woman living on the west coast of Ireland, her four kids have all flown the nest and made new lives for themselves, some far beyond these shores. One day she decides she’s going to sell the family home and divide the proceeds. The brood  are summoned home for one last Christmas, which leads to their various idealologies and ego’s competing for attention in this confined space. Then amidst this fractious atmosphere Rosaleen goes missing. Will they find in her in time, out there in this barren and unforgiving countryside on a stormy Christmas day? Will the children pull together in this crisis?

The Green Road isn’t a great book it’s an okay book, it reminded me of most of the middle of the road American drama’s you see on Hallmark TV, set in the Midwest about family’s gathering for thanksgiving. It’s people coming from far and wide to spend one day in each others company. We don’t like it, we do it because its tradition and we hope it’ll be all happy families, it’s usually a very poor attempt. That’s mainly down to the pressure to live up to the images presented on TV, magazines and newspapers.  Just like that, this story is a well worn one and it’s been done on film and TV much better, the characters are stereotypical , there’s a gay member of the family, a brother who is trying to find himself by doing charity work in Africa and a sister who does everything for everyone but never gets any thanks .

I may have read all the way through the book, that doesn’t mean I liked it, Imaking babies cover only it finished because she is or was a local author and I felt I should give her the benefit of the doubt. Hah! It was a waste of time; I could’ve easily thrown it down after the first couple of pages if I didn’t know her. The start is laborious and even though it picks up pace slightly midway, the ending is predictable.

This is Dublin born Enright’s ninth book of fiction, published in 2015 by Jonathan Cape. The others include My Portable Virgin, The Wig My Father Wore, The Gathering and Taking Pictures, as well as a collection of short stories called Yesterdays Weather and a book of non-fiction called Making Babies; you can guess what that’s about.

So take my advice, give The Green Road a miss. Take an alternative route to your literary enjoyment. Maybe even see if she can make a better effort on writing about motherhood. Better still go for  Tapas.