The Village by Alice Taylor

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The Village by Alice Taylor

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Gentle tales of family life in the rural village of Innishannon in County Cork. A comforting and undemanding read for those who share Alice Taylor's traditional and religious philosophy of life.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Brandon
ISBN: 978-0863224201

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Two other authors, Miss Read and Rebecca Shaw, have already purloined the village for their own. I so wish that the publishers had chosen a more distinctive title for this reprint. It's the Irishness of the memoir that will attract English readers.

If you know Ireland, you will already know that it produces readers, writers and philosophers in abundance. Alice Taylor is one. She has achieved so much in her life. As well as bringing up five children – quite enough effort for most people – she worked in the family village store and developed it into a supermarket, built and established a nearby guest house and cared for two elderly relatives in their last illnesses. As a sideline she wrote novels, poetry and memoirs, including the best-selling To School through the Fields about her childhood and Quench the Lamp about her adolescent years in the 1950's. The Village, the third volume, deals with a period of thirty years from the time she married into the village shopkeeper's family and came to live in Innishannon.

This book has been loved by Irish readers since its first publication in 1992. Nostalgia is a popular genre, probably because reminiscences tap into the reader's own hoard of memories. Alice Taylor's writing evokes an Ireland before the EEC and the roar of the Celtic Tiger. I imagine many expatriates on this side of the Irish Sea will enjoy these tales of once-familiar village life untroubled by the swinging Sixties in far-off London.

Innishannon lies at the head of Kinsale harbour, near Cork and Killarney, and a very lovely rural spot it sounds, too. This book is about slow change. Village characters retire, shops close and traditions are lost to the local community forever. The old folk eventually pass on peacefully. Alice Taylor mourns the loss of the traditional in favour of modern ways. Although she was evidently a power for change herself, Alice Taylor paints a gentle, idealized picture of the village's past life.

An advantage of writing non-fiction is that visitors to the area can identify locations, and I'm sure locals and visitors to Cork and Kerry appreciate a read which gives them an authentic slice of social history. The disadvantage of this approach is that most authors will be chary of offending real people by describing them warts and all, and I suspect this was the case as Alice Taylor wrote about her neighbours. In this day and age we can all understand not wanting to reveal too much information about our nearest and dearest, but unfortunately the result is that these important family members have no flesh on them as characters and come over as bland, idealized and anonymised.

To interest a wider audience, the writer of social history must take the familiar and make it strange in some way that will resonate with their readers. Alice Taylor rises to the challenge when she deals with the deaths of two much-loved relatives. She is obviously used to attending the dying and as a follower of the Roman Catholic tradition, feels comfortable with death. This is quite unusual to a modern secular society like ours. She has something to tell us, which she does, simply and well. The language flows and becomes a fluent narrative. Elsewhere the register is more patchy, burdened down by constant use of the passive tense, much reported narrative and far too little storytelling. The result is a book that sometimes feels dated. On the other hand, I'm sure there are plenty of readers who will appreciate Alice Taylor's nostalgia for the past and her homespun and conservative philosophy of life.

The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

From the dozens of Irish connections on The Bookbag's shelves, fiction you might like to try includes Orna Ross' Lovers Hollow, An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor, or Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden. There are childhood memories of Belfast in I'll Tell Me Ma: A Childhood Memoir by Brian Keenan and of Dublin in Memories of the Rare Old Times: Through The Eyes of a Dubliner by Bernard P Morgan.

Buy The Village by Alice Taylor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Village by Alice Taylor at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Village by Alice Taylor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Village by Alice Taylor at Amazon.com.


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