Sunday book review – Thin Places by Kerri ni Dochartaigh

This is another book published last year, which I missed even though I knew it was coming. If the name of the author rings a faint bell with readers of this blog then it is because she won a little writing competition held here in December 2016.

This is an immensely powerful book. I couldn’t read it quickly, I found I had to read a chapter or so and then put it down and come back to it days or weeks later. But I kept returning.

It’s not exactly a book about nature, but wildlife is so important to the author that we are never far from observations of the natural world. And if you doubt that access to bird song, flowering plants or weird insects can be a source of solace and of strength then read these pages.

The author has not had an easy life and she is strikingly honest about her fears, her pains and her faults – it sometimes felt as though I were intruding into her life a I read the next sentence and winced slightly. But, don’t let me give you the wrong impression, I was rooting for the author all the way through these pages as her honest vulnerability is a strength and one feels for her throughout the book.

It’s also a book about place, history and politics. Kerri grew up in Derry (aka Londonderry, and words and names are important in this book) during the Troubles and her youth and her family were affected deeply by those events. Anyone living on the eastern side of the Irish Sea could do worse than read this book to become better informed about not just the schisms, past and present, in Ireland but also what it is like to live them.

Ireland, both sides of the invisible border, is different from England, Wales and Scotland and the author reaches back into Celtic history and language to search for understanding of her place in the world.

We are reminded that Northern Ireland voted Remain (55.8%) and yet, like the rest of we Remainers, has been taken out of the EU by 51.9% of the total electorate. The implications for the UK are still playing out and are probably nowhere as keenly felt as in Northern Ireland.

It is rather trite to say that this book couldn’t have been written by anyone other than its author, because there is so much of her life described here, but such a mixture of nature, place, history, politics and intimacy is a very special book, from a very talented author.

The cover? Understated and attractive. I’d give it 7/10.

Thin Places by Kerri ni Dochartaigh is published by Canongate Books.