Carolan’s Concerto by Caiseal Mor.
This book was an absolute joy to read. It was a delightful narrative, weaving together elements of fairy-tale and historical reality in a manner that leaves you constantly questioning how much is real, and how much is fantasy. But within the context of the book (through the character of Edward, who is hearing the life-story of Turlough Carolan, being told by a blind brewer), you seen the gradual acceptance of the magical as being possible.
It really does pay tribute to Irish culture, without being overtly OMGIRISHGUINESSGREENLEPRECHAUNS!!! etc. It’s in the subtle capturing of the national pride, but also the fierce pragmatism that is prominent in the many Irish people I’ve met. That is to say, he doesn’t rely entirely on hyperbolic stereotypes and shallow portrayals.
On that note, it was interesting that it treated the Irish rebellion against English rule in the manner that it did; the standard ‘fight for your country, patriotic hatred of the English’ trope of so many novels, films and poems was absent. Personally I don’t have a problem with that sentiment, when expressed well, but it was interesting that Mor instead chose to focus on the reality of any culture that’s been oppressed by an invading force; that, ultimately, many people are forced to choose between sacrificing everything in the name of their ideological beliefs, and instead enduring in order to ensure the survival of themselves and their families. And he does portray it well; there’s the sense of fierce Irish pride, but it’s tempered by the weary acknowledgement that Connor’s rebellion is a subtle one, by necessity, as they try to survive in hard times.
So, for a brief overview; Mor uses mis en abyme (framing a story within a story) to particularly fantastic effect. Both stories are equally engaging, and the ‘containing’ story isn’t simply a framing device, it’s a rich tale of its own, and the combined stories work beautifully. The external story is of a Dublin-based rebel, who shoots an English officer and then escapes and seeks refuge with a country family; while hiding out there, the patriarch of the house recounts tales of his master, Turlough Carolan, arguably Ireland’s most famous musician. Throw in liberal doses of Sidhe mythology, sharp humour, and beautifully subtle cultural references, and you’ve got yourself an enchanting fantasy novel.
Stylistically, this is another of those books that, much like Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, you read for the narrative content, not for syntactical experimentation. So, the structure is fairly basic, though Mor uses his customary evocative description and expansive vocabulary to paint a very vivid mental picture.
Overall rating: 10/10.
Incidentally, Caiseal Mor is one of my all-time favourite authors. If you’re looking for fantasy that isn’t full of stupid names (or ones that are a blatant, and insulting, plagiarism of Tolkien’s works), bodice-ripping shit, and 4 pages of nothing but a description of the stock-standard ‘heroine’, definitely check him out.