“The writing, so true to small-town life, is both shrewd and enlarging. ” – Anne Enright
[ About the Book ]
In the seaside town of Tramore, County Waterford, visitors arrive in waves with the tourist season, reliving the best days of their childhoods in its caravan parks, chippers and amusement arcades.
Local teenager Helen Grant is indifferent to the charm of her surroundings; she dreams of escaping to art college with her glamorous classmate Stella Swaine and, from there, taking on the world. But leaving Tramore is easier said than done. Though they don’t yet know it, Helen and Stella’s lives are pulled by tides beyond their control.
Following the Grant and Swaine families and their neighbours over three decades, The Amusements is a luminous and unforgettable story about roads taken and not taken – and a brilliantly observed portrait of a small-town community.
[ My Review ]
The Amusements by Aingeala Flannery will publish June 23rd with Sandycove (Penguin Ireland) and is described as ‘a compelling portrait of the faded yet charming seaside town of Tramore, told in a vivid collage through a cast of memorable characters’.
Sixteen chapters that read like an intertwined collection of essays make up this very unique read from the equally unique voice of Aingeala Flannery. Set in Tramore, which is a popular seaside town in the sunny south east of Ireland, we are brought into the lives of some of its residents who live there all year around. We all associate Irish holiday spots with sunburn, sun lotion, sandy sandwiches, a couple of tries on the slots and ice-cream, but what happens off camera? In The Amusements, Tramore is explored through the eyes of the locals who see their town through a different lens and with a different perspective. Over three decades our attention is focussed primarily on two families, the Swaines and the Grants as they traverse the passing of time. Neighbours bounce in and out of the stories giving the reader a glimpse into the ups and downs of life in this small town in Co. Waterford.
Helen Grant and Stella Swaine are two teenagers from polar backgrounds. For a brief period they attend the same school and Helen becomes entranced by this extremely cool individual from ‘top town’. Helen was from the estates and teens from the two parts of Tramore rarely mixed, but Stella Swaine, or ‘Stella Swoon’ as the lads in school called her, was different.
“Kohl pencil circling her eyes, a silver stud in her nose, and lava-red hair flowing over her shoulders, all the way down the sleeves of her school jumper. Klimt’s Danaë might as well have walked into the art room.”
From that moment on Helen Grant saw a different life for herself, one beyond the confines of a seaside village. She had ambitions to attend art college in Dublin and her mind drifted to the possibility of Stella being in Dublin with her. But Helen lacked confidence in herself and in her ability to ever escape Tramore. Folk like her didn’t attend college in Dublin did they? Helen’s life was already mapped out for her by her mother which involved doing her Leaving Cert and getting a job locally, end of.
As the chapters evolve we leave Helen and Stella and criss-cross Tramore through the years as the decades pass by. The faces, both visitor and resident, come and go and certain characters evolve over time. When we think that we will hear no more, a face re-emerges and we get the opportunity to see what happened to them since we last met. Every single person mentioned has a purpose to this story. Every action has a reason.
There is a touch of Kevin Barry from Aingeala Flannery’s writing in its evocation of place and people. There is a visceral undertone in style that reflects complete understanding of the psyche of the seaside town. Although folk may complain about their lives and dream of escape, for many the pull is too strong and their lifeblood is almost tied to that of the town. The gossip mill is kept fuelled by rumours and there are always consequences to every action, but this is what keeps the place going.
The Amusements is a microcosm of small-town living, where we witness the idiosyncrasies of a place and its inhabitants spanning thirty years. A time-lapse comes to mind as we flit through homes and businesses, capturing the essence of Tramore with colourful and perceptive insights. A quirky and fresh style of writing adds to the whole atmosphere of The Amusements, a novel that wonderfully embraces life in a coastal Irish town with a vibrance and a clarity that sucks you right into the lives of all its charismatic ensemble.
[ Bio ]
Aingeala Flannery is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. She has completed an MFA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin. Her short story ‘Visiting Hours’ was the winner of the 2019 Harper’s Bazaar Short Story Competition. I
n 2020 and 2021, she was awarded a Literature Bursary by the Arts Council of Ireland. Her work has appeared in The Bath Anthology and has been broadcast on RTÉ Radio One as part of the Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She lives in Dublin.
The Amusements is her first book.
Twitter ~ @missflannery