Reading in the Dark

By Seamus Deane

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This is a novel framed as a memoir, describing life in a family which suffers from harbouring terrible secrets poorly understood. The life span of the central characters bridges the Troubles of the Civil War period and the early 1970s.

So there it was, our territory, with the old fort of Grianan on one hill overlooking Lough Foyle, the feud farmhouse on another hill, gazing on Lough Swilly, the thick neck of the Inishowen peninsula between Derry gauzed in smoke at the end of Lough Foyle, the border writhing behind it. We would walk out there into Donegal in the late morning and be back in the city by six o’clock, in time to see the women and girls streaming home from the shirt factories, arms linked, so much more brightly dressed, so much more talkative than the men, most of whom stood at the street corners. We would call to them, but they would dismiss us as youngsters.
‘Wheel that fella home in his pram. His mother’ll be lookin’ for him.’
‘You and your wee red cheeks. Teethin’ again!’
We’d retreat in disarray. Sometimes, the older boys would jump on to the back of a lorry or hang on to the the luggage ladder on a bus and fly past them, whistling, shouting the names of girls and the boys who fancied them. When the women disappeared into the houses there was always a blank space, a stillness of air disrobed, gaiety lost. Smoke from the chimneys stood up in the sky, even in summer, and when one went on fire, the sheaf of flame was a delight to see.

Extract by permission of Seamus Deane and Sheil Land Associates Ltd

A boy tries to piece together the scraps of stories that he hears about his missing uncle, who had been in the IRA.

The book shows the lineage of pain in some families and the historical backdrop to the modern Troubles in the experiences of earlier generations.

Reading in the Dark won the 1996 Guardian Fiction Prize and the 1996 South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature, is a New York Times Notable Book, won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize and the Irish Literature Prize in 1997, besides being shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996.

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