The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness

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The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness

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Buy The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Far, far more than just a biography this is a beautifully written story of a house and the people who have their living there. It's highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: {{{pages}}} Date: September 2012
Publisher: Penguin Ireland
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1844881574

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Selina Guinness lived at Tibradden as a child and in 2002 she and her husband-to-be, Colin Graham, moved back to the house when her elderly uncle Charles became frail. The surname might lead you to suspect that there were brewery millions in the background but this wasn't the case. The couple were young academics and doing what needed to be done at Tibradden would need to be done in addition to full-time jobs. The house was on the outskirts of Dublin - 'derelict fields' if you were a property developer or the last defence against the encroaching city if you were not.

It would be easy to class this book as 'biography' but it is far more than that. Guinness has an academic's ability to see a situation from both sides. She's emotionally tied to Tibradden - and becomes more so as she delves into the complexities of farming the property - but she knows that holding on to all the land is going to be financially impractical. Selling part of it for a golf course seems like a reasonable compromise, but she's wary of the motives of the potential purchaser. How long before the 'golf course' becomes a housing estate, with all the problems that will bring to their farm?

They do need the money though. The fabric of Tibradden has been allowed to deteriorate over the years and repairs as well as upgrading are necessary if the house is to be a family home. There's a further complication too. Tibradden has a gatehouse where the farm's stewards have lived - the present steward is now elderly but she was born in the property. Her husband does as much as he can around the farm - probably more than should be done by a man in his seventies - but where would they go if they could no longer live at the gatehouse? What too would become of their son - a man with severe learning disabilities? The Kirwans are reluctant to let anyone see the interior of the gatehouse and with good cause. They' live in squalor and are frightened to ask for help. And any work on the gatehouse is going to be slow and expensive as it's a listed building.

Guinness has a perfect understanding of the complex relationship between the landed gentry and their employees and she conveys perfectly the relationship which she has with the Kirwans. The nuances slip gently from the page. She's equally good with the complexities of EU farming policies and what this means for Tibradden and others who farm on the same basis. She writes with a lyrical clarity and what might be dull and dry in other hands is engaging and interesting.

Above all though, this is the story of a family and it's beautifully told. I hadn't intended to read The Crocodile by the Door and didn't realise that I was reading it until I found myself in tears over one particular event. Somehow that seem to decide matters. It's a superb book and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

The book put me in mind of Thin Paths: Journeys in and Around an Italian Mountain Village by Julia Blackburn which was Costa nominated in 2011. That was a good book. Crocodile is better.

Buy The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Crocodile by the Door: The Story of a House, a Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness at Amazon.com.

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