Book: Bring on the scary nuns

BLESSED ART THOU A MONK SWIMMING by Miriam Dunne, Headline Review pounds 14.99
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The Independent Culture
The Cover calls it "an Irish novel of wit and insight", which seems to me to be asking for trouble: the claim rings of Eiresatz and all its odious trappings, from beer advertisements to Michael Flatley. And only a few chapters in, you realise with dread that it's going to have all the requisite components of the genre: the feckless, alcoholic father, the mysteries of Catholicism, the accruing of sexual knowledge, schools run by scary nuns, the quaintness of Dublin in the Sixties, groping priests, and the lure of London. Mercifully, though, Dunne steers well clear of any "Oirish" paddywhackery, imbuing her novel with, well, wit and insight.

Marian is a feisty Catholic chick who books herself into a boarding school to escape her family who are, frankly, as barmy as the lunatics in the asylum at the end of their street. Her father veers from being distracted and oppressively loving to "stocious", while the mother is neglectful in her wilful favouritism of Marian's sister, Celine. Marian's relationship with Celine forms the oblique emotional centre of the book. It is less sibling rivalry than sibling injustice: Celine is excused everything because of her "artistic temperament". Ripping up clothes, hurling food about, demanding more and more money, having visions of her dead father, are all smoothed over as Marian, despite her optimism and strong survival instinct, begins to wilt and - quite understandably - seek love and attention elsewhere.

It falls somewhere between Paddy Clark Ha, Ha, Ha and Angela's Ashes and, while it never attains the brilliance of either, is still a spirited and entertaining read.