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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing