The Memory Stones by Kate O'Riordan

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The Memory Stones by Kate O'Riordan

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A story about mother/daughter relationships. It's a gripping tale with good characterisation but the writing is self-indulgent in places. It's one to borrow rather than buy, we think.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 374 Date: March 2003
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 0743450175

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Nell Hennessy left the wilds of western Ireland when she was sixteen and pregnant. It was more than thirty years before she returned. She didn't even make it back for her mother's funeral, but she's disturbed by a telephone call in the early hours of the morning at her Paris home and realises that she must go back as her daughter and grandchild are in danger. Why did it take her so long to return? What is it that's so upsetting her beloved granddaughter, Grace?

The book is about mother/daughter relationships. Agnes brought Nell up alone after the death of Nell's sister, Bridget. The death brought about a subtle change in their relationship and in the way that other children treated Nell. Nell's conception of Ali was accidental, even frivolous and Ali is brought up partly by Nell and partly by Nell's Uncle and Aunt in England. The mother/daughter relationship is strained and scratchy despite the love they have for each other. Ali's daughter, Grace, doesn't know where she fits in. She's unkempt and lonely as her mother tries to cope with a sick partner and running a pub. Her best friends are animals. The nuances of the relationships are captured well. Despite the love mothers and daughters have for each other they can still have to tiptoe around each other as though they're on egg shells.

It's a good story, with all sorts of little sub-plots such as Nell's married lover who decides to leave his wife, but Nell's not certain that she wants that level of involvement. Who too is Adam who inhabits a caravan at the bottom of Ali's garden? What is the hold he has over Ali? There is a point towards the end of the novel where the suspense is almost overwhelming and it's probably the best piece of writing of this type that I've read for a long time.

Characterisation is excellent. I didn't warm towards all the characters, but they did all seem real to me. Nell is a little too cool and distant for empathy, but I was taken by Nick, Ali's sick partner and young Grace. The characters are all balanced. Even the evil, the predatory are balanced by having good characteristics. The men are a little more shadowy but then this is a book about four generations of women and the men don't play such a large part.

So, it's a good subject, a good story and excellent characterisation. Why then can I not get my enthusiasm above three and a half stars? Well, it's the writing, you see. The book isn't badly written, in fact, in places it's beautifully written, but there are places where it's simply too self-indulgent. I found myself skimming pages of lyrical description, when I wanted to know what happened next. That part of Ireland is beautiful but this is a work of fiction not a travel book. There were also occasions when the word use seemed inappropriate for this type of book, when long words were used for effect rather than meaning. I'll give you an example:

"The Garda leads the way, keeping up a light, steady banter until the point where the tracks divaricate... "

Yes, the tracks "divaricate". They could equally well have divided or separated and we would all have known what was meant. I Googled the word and up came the Dictionary of Difficult Words (no, I am not joking) and the word is defined as "bifurcate; a. wide-spreading. divarication, n. bifurcation; straddling; disagreement; ambiguity." We're still not into the way most people speak on a daily basis, are we? There were quite a few similar examples and they took away from my enjoyment of the book. This was writing for the pleasure of writing rather than to give pleasure to the reader.

I don't normally comment on book covers, but the photography of the pebbles on this cover, by Nadina Gray, is superb.

If this type of book interests you then you might like to try Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum, or Margaret Forster's Private Papers both of which look at the relationships between mothers and daughters and in both cases the writing style is less self-indulgent.

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Buy The Memory Stones by Kate O'Riordan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Memory Stones by Kate O'Riordan at


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