The Eyrie by Stevie Davies

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The Eyrie by Stevie Davies

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A book in which the little things speak loudest and in which what doesn't happen is at least as important as what does. It's about love and loss, politics and power and the effect of the past upon the present. The real beauty is in the understatement.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2007
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN: 978-0297851417

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Before its conversion into high-class flats with paper-thin walls, The Eyrie was the home of a South Wales copper baron, built on the exploitation of worker labour in the nineteenth century. Ironic, then, that Dora Urquhart - Red Dora - should find herself living out her final days there. Dora is a fiery Scots radical, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and every political struggle since, right up to the miners strike in 1984. Dora is in her nineties now, but as fiery, powerful and vital as ever. Eirlys is The Eyrie's mother hen. She knows all the gossip and is always ready with a welcome cup of tea and home-baked cake. Eirlys, an ex-social worker, is also a Welsh patriot and language campaigner with a history of agit prop almost matching Dora's. Newcomer Hannah is the child of a commune, on the run from a stifling marriage to a dull, middle-class man. In Hannah, Dora sees the ghost of Rosa, her daughter who died some years ago while the two were estranged.

I fell in love with Red Dora almost immediately. She reminded me of my grandmother - strong-willed and passionate but reserved, and with regrets that are private and internalised and not for public view. Like Dora, towards the end of her life, my grandmother also relented emotionally and like Dora, it was very difficult for her to do. Outwardly, Eirlys may be a mother hen, clucking and caring, but this motherliness belies a sharp intelligence not blunted by compassionate understanding but sharpened, in a way that allows it to keep pace with the passage of time and a changing world. I liked her for understanding that so many of life's bigger meanings can be expressed perfectly though the trivial. I was less taken with Hannah, probably simply because I don't know anyone like her, but perhaps because her backstory was more concerned with her own life rather than with a cause, or with other people's lives.

You could read The Eyrie simply for the beauty of its prose, which is elegant, precise and evocative. Mostly though, you should read it for what isn't said rather than what is said, for what doesn't happen rather than for what does happen. it It's about the way the past impacts upon the present not only in the lives of three women, but also upon the communities in which they live and even upon the very landscape itself. It's about the big themes of love and loss and power and control and how they are informed by the insignificant and commonplace as much as by the grandstanding of huge events. For me, the word is invariably more important than the image, but I would love to see this book adapted for a high class stage or screen production. It would be fascinating to observe a good director with good actors interpreting the nuances of character and motive.

This is not a book to be rushed. The real beauty of it lies in the quiet, understated detail. Hurry and you'll miss it. Savour it, and you will find something upon which to reflect in every page, every sentence, every paragraph. The mathmetician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said We think in generalities, but we live in detail. It isn't only Red Dora who discovers the truth of this in The Eyrie, it's the reader too.

My thanks to Orion for sending the book.

If you you like the sound of The Eyrie, you might also enjoy After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell.

Booklists.jpg The Eyrie by Stevie Davies is in the Top Ten Books For Your Auntie.

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