‘Saoirse was the name that revealed itself. Freedom.’
The Queen of Dirt Island
[ About The Queen of Dirt Island ]
‘The Aylward women are mad about each other, but you wouldn’t always think it. You’d have to know them to know – in spite of what the neighbours might say about raised voices and dramatic scenes – that their house is a place of peace, filled with love, a refuge from the sadness and cruelty of the world.
Their story begins at an end and ends at a beginning. It’s a story of terrible betrayals and fierce loyalties, of isolation and togetherness, of transgression, forgiveness, desire, and love. About all the things family can be and all the things it sometimes isn’t. More than anything, it is an uplifting celebration of fierce, loyal love and the powerful stories that last generations.‘
[ My Review ]
The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan was published August 2022 and is described as ‘a searing, jubilant novel about four generations of women and the love and stories that bind them.’ For anyone who has not picked up a copy of a Donal Ryan book, you have a real special treat in store.
After reading the opening chapter, entitled ‘END’, my heart was committed to this beautiful and poignant tale. Donal Ryan vividly transports us all into the lives of Saoirse Aylward, her mother Eileen and her Nana Mary, as they struggle with the daily challenges of life. With a rural setting near Nenagh in Co. Tipperary, this is a part of the country that Donal Ryan knows well and he creates masterful visuals of the surrounding townlands and countryside.
Saoirse was born to loving parents but a shocking event at the beginning of her life sets a trajectory for what’s to follow. Growing up in a house full of love, Saoirse never wanted for much, accepting this busy, frenetic household that was her home. As she got older she began to take more heed of the comments of others and realised that her family circumstances were different to others. At fifteen she attended a family funeral and finally got to see where her mother came from, a place called Dirt Island. It was here that she heard from a man something that caused her much sorrow and pain.
‘The island that gave the farm and the townland its derogatory name was in the middle of a small lake downhill from the ancient three-storey house that was Mother’s childhood home. The island was a lump, really yellowish-brown in colour.‘
For those of you who have read Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan you will be delighted to be reacquainted with Kit Gladney and her family, some years on, with Josh also making a return. It is these connections that make Donal Ryan’s writing almost familiar. It’s as though the reader is right there in the thick of it, meeting up with old friends and catching up on the happenings after being away.
The Queen of Dirt Island is a tale about mother-daughter relationships and about family bitterness, transgressions and grief. It is a book full of pain but also one of unrelenting hope for a better life, a better future. The four generations of the Aylward women all share a determination to survive. They are tough and unrelenting. They are fierce. To an outsider they might look fractured and on a course of self-destruction but there is a shared deep-rooted love for each other and for their home that cannot be shaken.
With two-page chapters, all with excellent one-word titles, The Queen of Dirt Island moves at quite a fast pace garnering huge engagement from the reader as the lives of the Aylwards spills out across the pages. Capturing the joy and sadness of one family, Donal Ryan insightfully explores the internal and external dynamics of life. Extraordinary in its simplicity and beauty, with lyrical prose and immersive descriptions, The Queen of Dirt Island is another beautiful and atmospheric novel from the rarest of talents that is Donal Ryan.
[ Bio ]
Donal Ryan is an award-winning author from Nenagh, County Tipperary, whose work has been published in over twenty languages to major critical acclaim. The Spinning Heart won the Guardian First Book Award, the EU Prize for Literature (Ireland), and Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards; it was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize, and was voted ‘Irish Book of the Decade’.
His fourth novel, From a Low and Quiet Sea, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2018, and won the Jean Monnet Prize for European Literature. His most recent novel Strange Flowers, was voted Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, and was a number one bestseller.
Donal lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. He lives with his wife Anne Marie and their two children just outside Limerick City.
I’m pleased to learn that you enjoyed this book as much as I did Mairead.
He’s such a talented writer!