Books: Ewe are my heart's desire

Carol Birch prefers country by-ways to the streets of Dublin; In the Beginning by Catherine Dunne, Cape, pounds 9.99 One Day as a Tiger by Anne Haverty, Chatto, pounds 9.99

Nothing sums up the schizophrenia of modern life like contemporary Ireland, where urban sophisticates have delighted in puncturing time-honoured shibboleths, while among the boreens and candy-coloured village streets the old ways persist. Two first novels from Irish women, one urban, one rural, aptly illustrate this.

On the strength of Catherine Dunne's novel, In The Beginning, it seems that the old certainties have been jettisoned in favour of a resolute blandness. It tells the story of Rose, perfect housewife and mother of three, whose husband walks out after 20 years of marriage. Rose picks herself up, dusts herself down and discovers beneath her doormat persona such reserves of strength and independence that within a year she has turned tragedy into triumph, scaling heights of self-respect she could never have dreamed of in marriage.

It is a simple, undemanding book with a plucky heroine and a message of hope, rocking no boats and adhering to standard truisms of the British and American feminist novel of 20 or so years ago. Divorce is a liberation for women and, in the long run, is better for children than life with two unhappy parents. Ben, the husband, is no loss, being despicable and boring and prone to make a mess in the kitchen. Women friends are strong and dependable. PMT is a window onto reality that men don't understand.

Catherine Dunne is good on the minutiae of domestic life and the sense of panic faced by women desperately trying to earn a living and keep a family fed and stable, but this is a simplification of the anguish that attends the breakdown of a 20-year relationship, and is unconvincingly reassuring about the effects on children. Still, the woman finds herself, or at least makes a start, and it catches convincingly the brisk modernity and fashionable cynicism of Dublin life.

It is from just this that Marty, hero of Anne Haverty's One Day As A Tiger, flees back to the family farm in Tipperary, relinquishing a promising academic career at Trinity College. Here in the fields of his happy childhood, he falls into the role of layabout younger brother to solid sheep farmer Pierce, a truly good character portrayed without awe or sentiment. Hopelessly and shamefully in love with Pierce's young wife, Etti, Marty also becomes fixated with a lamb called Missy, runt of a herd of sheep experimentally doctored with human genes. Convinced that she has rejected her ovine nature, he takes the pitiful creature into his house and develops a bizarre relationship with her, a projection of his desperate need for love.

This relationship is taken totally seriously by the writer but not by the local community. When Missy becomes the means whereby Etti responds to Marty, the stage is set for a tragedy of classic proportions.

On one level this is a simple story, plainly yet poetically told; on another it's a complex web of humour and pain. It is about the cruelties inflicted on animals by sentimental anthropomorphism, as the beloved lamb becomes whatever is projected onto it. It is also the best observation of modern rural Ireland I have yet to read. Haverty's depiction of "the country way" seeks not to grind an axe, to revere, romanticise or vilify, but simply to behold. Thus, rural life is a possible route to stultification and madness, but it also has beauty and dignity and its roots reach into mythology.

There seems to be a tendency for some Irish women writers to feel that they must consciously make a statement on the subject of "Women in Ireland". Catherine Dunne is in this mode, concerned thereby to point out hypocrisy and emphasise a rot in the traditions. Anne Haverty has a more universal view. She sees the rot but has a clearer view of what's left of the fabric. She cares as much about men as women, the old and the new, and sees the complexity of both. In One Day As A Tiger, she has created a haunting, subtle and beautiful book.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas