Someone by Alice McDermott

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Someone by Alice McDermott

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A chronicle of an Irish-American woman's life from the 1920s to the present in which people take precedence over history. Believe me when I say that when a writer can animate people as Alice McDermott can, that's no hardship whatsoever.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
ISBN: 978-1408847244

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Marie is growing up in 1920s Brooklyn and, although not financially rich she's the secure, cared for child of Irish parents from one of the many waves of immigration which the US has promised to welcome. Marie's friend Pegeen is from Irish/Syrian stock and is dying for romantic love to come her way. Marie's brother Gabe is singled out for Catholic seminary and priesthood. Marie thinks the future is as safe as the loved ones around her but the future is an unknown country and her journey towards it hasn't finished yet.

American author Alice McDermott has written seven novels, has won the National Book Award once, been a finalist for the Pulitzer three times and nominated for the LA Times Book Prize. Someone itself brings a second National Book Award nomination. Alice's secret? There isn't one, only bags of talent and, I should imagine, some hard graft.

Someone leads us through Marie's life from a seven-year-old sitting on a doorstep to the elderly person we see before us in our mind's eye. She tells her own story from the being one who dreams about adulthood to becoming the adult and experiencing a very different life from the one of which she dreamed.

Many of the dramatic events that have affected America (and indeed the world) over the past 100 years don't get a mention unless they affect Marie and those around her. The only way that we know she lived through the Depression and Prohibition is because we know her age and can do the maths. This is also the way she wrote After This and may not be to your taste. However I didn't miss the historical context as this is a novel driven by some sublime characterisation.

We're given the luxury of wallowing in an incredibly memorable supporting cast. As well as Pegeen, the daft idealism-drenched girl from up the road, there's Blind Billy Corrigan, the butt of the local children's jokes and Marie's mother who believes that a well-applied spoon is a good form of contraception if all else fails. (Men, be prepared to wince when you read of said spoon's manner of application.) My particular favourite is Fagin the undertaker who is a great fan of Charles Dickens to the extent of forgiving him for besmirching the family name.

Alice's prose is eloquent while sparing. Verbosity can be a good thing in a novel but here it's redundant. When we're told My heart was pinned to my father's sleeve. the images that this relationship conjures go beyond the normal power of eight words. The author is also brave enough to leave ends untied for a while; we're teasingly left to wonder what happened at the seminary and how Marie's father died. Have patience though; by the end of the book what we don't know, we can guess.

This is the story of a life of love for individuals and a celebration of community in all its wonder and horror. The author started out with a hypothesis that the quietest life can resonate the longest and in Marie's case, this is true (the term 'quiet' being subjective). Everyone is both ordinary and special enough to feel a resonance with Someone and in that lies a charming magic.

I'd like to thank Bloomsbury Circus for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If this appeals we definitely recommend Nine Days by Toni Jordan. It may be set in another country but again it's a writer who can make people walk right off the page.

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Buy Someone by Alice McDermott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Someone by Alice McDermott at


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