The Fields by Kevin Maher
|The Fields by Kevin Maher|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A 1980s Dublin coming of age story that rocks with laughter before misting up with sadness. Jim Finnegan is a teenager who will stay in my head for a long time and my heart for even longer.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: January 2014|
Jim Finnegan is embarking on his teens in 1980s Dublin but that's not all he's embarking on. A lad from an average Catholic family in many ways, he has five sisters, a mother who believes the supreme threat is a telling off from the parish priest and his father is understandably tired all the time. Between school and the cacophony of his mother's coffee mornings Jim learns a lot but nothing as useful as what happens when you become very friendly with a pair of pillows or what to do with the girls he and his mates ogle from afar. Then suddenly a lot of things change almost simultaneously and life doesn't seem so average any more.
Irish writer Kevin Maher has had an illustrious journalistic career, culminating in his current role as Times film critic and columnist and I don't begrudge him a syllable of it. I just wish he'd written a novel sooner because he does appear to be somewhat gifted.
Jim is an unmistakable teenage voice, wanting to be with the in-crowd despite his mother's protestations and then realising that being with the cool kids means he has to suppress his embryonic adult conscience. In fact I began to think that he's like many lads I shared my teens with back in the 70s, from taping music from the radio to standing on the hockey pitch side lines yelling 'encouragement'. Then the differences start appearing making it more typically an Irish teenage, and not only in the fervour and almost nostalgic longing for a united, independent nation.
In fact the novel's title comes from a 1970s rebel anthem The Fields of Athenry about an Irish lad transported to Botany Bay for stealing food for his starving family. Mr Maher has chosen it cleverly as this not only reflects the need for many Irish citizens to travel abroad for work during the 80s but also Jim's eventual temporary exile of sorts for a very different reason.
Kevin provides us with much at which to smile and guffaw. I found myself giggling inappropriately at the coffee ladies' death-relating competition and choking on coffee at Mr Donohue's linking of patriotism with his children's names, inserting as many bh, gh and dh combinations as possible. His daughter Saidbh (pronounced Sive - thanks for the guide Kevin!) being totally outdone by his son's 14 letter name which has to be seen to be believed.
The laughing does stop though and, in my case, abruptly. As I read the scene in which Jimmy's father comforts him in his bedroom in a perfectly normal, fatherly way, I was surprised to find tears running down my face; it was so extraordinarily and yet simply touching. There are more moments like that in between wondering what will happen to friend Gary when he's blamed for that book, the wonderfully larger than life Aunt Grace and having to outrun Mozzo as we witness (and are led to think deeply about) issues that still resonate in Ireland today.
The only reason I didn't hit reach for the whole 5* is that I felt Jimmy's search for further enlightenment in the last third or so was a little drawn out (phrased to prevent spoilers) but that's a minor whinge. In fact I still think about Jim, his mates and his family from time to time and I still wonder about that ingeniously ambiguous ending. Yes, I realise its fiction, but when a book worms its way in to your mind like this, it just can't be helped.
A thank you goes to Abacus for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: If his appeals then we're betting you'll also enjoy Jammy Dodger by Kevin Smith, also set in 1980s Dublin with a humorous twist in the seriousness but this time it's the life of a student.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Fields by Kevin Maher at Amazon.com.
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