‘All the light left Paddy Gladney’s eyes when his daughter disappeared; all the gladness went from his heart’
– Strange Flowers
[ About the Book ]
In 1973, twenty-year-old Moll Gladney takes a morning bus from her rural home and disappears.
Bewildered and distraught, Paddy and Kit must confront an unbearable prospect: that they will never see their daughter again.
Five years later, Moll returns. What – and who – she brings with her will change the course of her family’s life forever.
[ My Review ]
Strange Flowers is the just released stunning masterpiece from Irish writer Donal Ryan. Published with Doubleday Books August 20th, it is described as ‘beautiful and devastating…an exploration of loss, alienation and the redemptive power of love reaffirms Donal Ryan as one of the most talented and empathetic writers at work today.’ The reviews of his work are glowing and with good reason. Donal Ryan is an exceptional writer.
‘A big-hearted, beautiful work of art, full of truth and intensity‘ Kit de Waal
‘Endlessly surprising and incredibly moving’ David Nicholls
‘A triumph … the best novel I’ve read so far this year’ Joseph O’Connor
Strange Flowers is a compact novel, with short chapters, that pack a mighty punch. Broken up by sections headed with religious themes, and with a telling of a parable within, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a religious book, but it is not. Strange Flowers is the story of an Irish family living in rural Ireland whose world gets upturned when Moll, only daughter of Paddy and Kit Gladney, walks out of the house early one morning, not to return for five years.
‘The world turned cold when Moll went, and what light was cast was dappled dark with shadow.’
It’s 1973. Paddy is the local postman and, also, tenant farmer and caretaker of the local estate owned by the Jackman family. Kit does some book-keeping and maintains the home. Moll leaving is unexpected and life-changing for both. This doesn’t happen to folk like them. Where is she gone? Is she dead in a ditch somewhere? How will life continue without their Moll? But life does continue for Kit and Paddy and one day, five years later, Moll returns
‘Kit was afraid at first that it was an apparition, not Moll in the flesh but her ghost…..Like Thomas doubting the truth of the risen Christ, she took Moll’s hands again and looked at them over as though to inspect her stigmata, the marks of her suffering..’
After the initial shock wears off, Paddy and Kit wonder what happened to Moll. Why did she disappear without trace for so long? So many unanswered questions but Kit and Paddy are patient and the truth does finally reveal itself in the most unexpected fashion, with a visit from Sergeant Crossley and Father Coyne. A stranger had arrived in a neighbouring town looking for Mary ‘Moll’ Gladney.
‘This man aforementioned is an object of some suspicion to my colleagues in the Nenagh barracks, because this man is a stranger to the area and to all areas hereabout adjacent and adjunct, and this man speaks with an English accent, and this man is black…..’
In rural 1970’s Ireland a person of colour was a rare sight indeed and for Kit and Paddy Gladney, the time had come for Moll to explain herself.
Donal Ryan captures something very unique to Ireland in his portrayal of a community as it initially questions, doubts and, following an interrogation of sorts, accepts anyone who can handle a hurley. Oh Donal Ryan I will be quoting those pages for ever and a day. Hurling is a fast and extremely skilled sport unique to the Irish. In the rural communities the GAA (hurling/football and camogie) is the backbone of villages and towns around the country. Blood is spilled, bones are broken and the display of skill is second to none. Loyalty to the parish comes first and foremost. The scenes depicted by Donal Ryan are magical, hilarious and really just perfect.
The Gladney family face some very challenging days but life goes on, as it has to. Three generations are portrayed with great clarity and as the years pass, Moll’s story begins to unfold even more. There is an incredible depth to every word written, every word spoken. Reading this book takes the reader on a journey with some very unforeseen twists and turns.
Strange Flowers is a book with a soul. It is evident that Donal Ryan writes from the heart about a community he is very familiar with. His portrayal of 1970s Ireland is from his own first-hand experiences of life during those changing years, adding a very authentic flavour to the book. Donal Ryan makes many observations of the social classes of the time. He very skillfully tackles issues of race, grief, love and loss, with religion and sexuality also explored.
Strange Flowers is a unique and very extraordinary read. Within so few pages, Donal Ryan captures a time and place with exquisite descriptions and quite simply wonderful characters. A very affecting read, Strange Flowers, is a beautiful piece of work, a very memorable novel with elegant prose that captivates the reader from those arresting opening lines.
[ Bio ]
Donal Ryan is from Nenagh in County Tipperary.
His first three novels, The Spinning Heart, The Thing About December and All We Shall Know, and his short story collection A Slanting of the Sun, have all been published to major 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 Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2018.
A former civil servant, 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.