cover image The Queen of Dirt Island

The Queen of Dirt Island

Donal Ryan. Viking, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-65293-0

Ryan (Strange Flowers) returns with an inspired story about four generations of women and girls living together in a small Irish village. Saoirse Aylward is just days old in 1982 when her father is killed in a car accident. Her mother, Eileen, a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking woman who tells Saoirse she loves her every night, has been estranged from her family ever since her premarital pregnancy. Now, as a widow, Eileen finds a dear friend in her late husband’s mother, Saoirse’s Nana. As Saoirse grows up, she adores Eileen, her Nana, and her two paternal uncles, Chris and Paudie, who dote on her. She also picks up on the meanness of the world during a visit to Eileen’s childhood home, which Eileen and her relatives call “Dirt Island.” Later, teenage Saoirse gets pregnant after a hazy encounter with a musician, causing much heartache. Nana moves in with them after having a stroke, and Chris gets married and Paudie is arrested for hiding guns for the IRA. Drama ensues with a conflict between Eileen and her brother over ownership of Dirt Island, and Saoirse’s trust in her child’s godparent is compromised. Short vignette-style chapters sometimes disrupt the flow, though each of the characters shimmers with life. Overall, this is glorious and moving. Agent: Marianne Gun O’Connor, Marianne Gun O’Connor Agency. (Feb.)