The Bodley Head, London 2005
This book is marketed as a children’s book, suitable for Middle School-aged readers but I’d like to suggest that its appeal is much broader than that. The plot is engaging, the characters clearly drawn and, while the story is fantastical and steeped in myth and magic, the characters in the story appear as very real people living in a real Ireland.
I discovered this book quite by accident. I had misremembered someone’s name, and in the process of doing a Google search, discovered Kate Thompson. It was around the time that our recording, The Pooka and the Fiddler & Happy as Larry came out, so the description that I read of this book intrigued and delighted me.
I’ll not go into too much detail about the plot. It involves lost time — not in a Proustian sense but quite literally — an old family mystery involving a possible murder and Tír na nÓg, the land of the forever young. One element of the story that appealed greatly to me was the idea that one sometimes finds in traditional Irish music-making, that tunes are not so much composed as they are learned. The idea that the sound of a stream or the waves on the ocean or the wind blowing through the trees will suggest a tune and that the tune is coming across from some other world. It is the notion of draíocht or enchantment, sometimes translated as magic. The famous tune Port na bPúcaí is a very well known example of this idea. Seamus Heaney wrote a poem on the subject called The Given Note which he famously recorded with the piper Liam O’Flynn. It goes, in part,
So whether he calls it spirit music
Or not, I don't care. He took it
Out of wind off mid-Atlantic.
Still he maintains, from nowhere
And if you play Irish music, I think you’ll doubly enjoy it. Each chapter ends with the printed music for an Irish tune. So a chapter in which the main character, JJ Liddy, patches up a disagreement with his friend, Jimmy Dowling, ends with music for The Reconciliation. many of the tunes will be familiar to the seasoned session musician but there are some not-so-well-known tunes in there, too.
Kate Thompson is a consummate writer — this book won the Whitbread Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. The prose is elegant and brisk, the story is compelling and JJ Liddy is an engaging hero. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it highly.