#ReadingIreland18: John Boyne and Maggie O’Farrell

Reading Ireland Month is hosted by Cathy at 746Books and Niall at The Fluff is Raging. I made it with two days left to spare!

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

I have now read three of Boyne’s books for children and none of his adult books. I don’t know why this has happened, but I am here to tell you that if you haven’t read any of his kids’ books yet, you should. I’ve also read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (many years ago) and The Boy at the Top of the Mountain (probably my favourite – my review).

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is about a boy whose father goes away to fight in the war (WWI), and is gone for almost 4 years. At first there are many letters from him that he reads with his mother, but one day the letters stop. His mother tells him his father has gone on a secret mission and isn’t able to write letters anymore, but the boy begins to suspect that his mother is hiding something. He takes it on himself to investigate.

He’d done it for the best reason in the world. For love.

This story explores the terrible reality of PTSD in a gentle and engaging way. And, although this story takes place a hundred years ago, it is still something we are learning about and certainly something that many children have to contend with in their lives.

He hated it here. He hated this place and he hated these people. Being at this hospital was like stepping into the middle of a nightmare where nothing anyone said made any sense. The men were all confused, living partly in the present, partly in the past, and partly in some no man’s land that they marched across, trying to dodge bullets and failing, flailing, falling.

One of the parts I loved most was the story of the boy and his friend, Kalena, whose ambition was to be the Prime Minister one day. Everyone he tells this to scoffs or chuckles at it, but the boy defends his friend every time.

After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

Two years ago I read my first Maggie O’Farrell and loved it. So I was excited when I found another one of her books at a thrift store a few months ago – just in time for March!

I suspect many of you have already read it, so I’ll be brief. The book starts out with Alice going to Edinburgh to visit her sisters on a whim. While she’s there she sees something so disturbing that she gets back on the train home again, leaving her sisters dumbfounded. Once back in London, she steps off the curb into traffic. As family and friends speculate as to whether or not she stepped off the curb purposely, Alice lies in a coma.

Alice sometimes worries that she might lose her grip on life. Like the fear that your hand might suddenly veer out of control when you are writing your signature fro the millionth time on a credit card slip, she can occasionally see how easily something in her could break and she’d be left spinning in a limbo of panic and disorder.

The rest of the book is made up of fragments; pieces of her past mixed with snippets of her mother and grandmother’s stories. As her family come to sit by her side and stay at her house we begin to put together all the pieces of her life that led to this moment. Sometimes it was what I thought, and sometimes it wasn’t.

At the point where Alice’s clothes meet John’s, a red slip dress hangs next to a blue cotton shirt, slightly crumpled. It makes Ann cry, their clothes hanging together like this, it makes her cry a lot. And she’s not sure who she’s crying for: for her daughter, yes, the thought of whose death makes her feel like a glove pulled inside out on itself; … [avoiding a spoiler]…; and a part of her cries for herself, whose clothes would never hang like this with anyone’s.

Some readers might find the fragmented, patchwork structure too jumbled, but I like it. To me it makes the book feel more of a challenge and more rewarding.

I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be reading more from both of these authors… are there any of their books you particularly love? Or ones I should avoid? 

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34 thoughts on “#ReadingIreland18: John Boyne and Maggie O’Farrell

  1. Geoff W says:

    John Boyne sure does love his young historical male characters 😀 I’ve only ever read The Absolutist and seen The Boy in the Striped Pajamas but they’re both historical fiction (Absolutists isn’t as young as the others it seems), but he does have his little pigeonhole.

    I’ve not read anything by O’Farrell, but may have to look her up some day.

    • Naomi says:

      All three of the books for children have also been about either WWI or WWII, so maybe he also has an interest in war-time settings?

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    I’ve only read Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but it was my top novel of last year. I’d shied away from his YA stuff, but you may have convinced me to have a look 🙂

    I love Maggie O’Farrell to bits, but this is one of hers I haven’t read. I think I still have her first three books to read, actually. The Hand that First Held Mine is my absolute favourite.

    • Naomi says:

      After You’d Gone might be her first book? If not, close to it. The two I’ve read are also the only two we have at our library. But I think I can get all of them through ILL.

      I’m not one to pick up YA very often (for myself), but when I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas I thought it was for adults. I also think all of them could be read by pre-teens as well as older kids. You should try one – I’d love to know how you like it!

  3. annelogan17 says:

    I haven’t read a single Maggie O’Farrell, but I just heard a wonderful piece about her on the CBC as well so obviously I need to try her out! In fact, I haven’t read many Irish writers now that I think about it…

  4. FictionFan says:

    After You’ve Gone is the only Maggie O’Farrell I’ve read, long ago when it had just come out, and I must admit my memory of it is extremely vague, but I do remember loving it and making one of my (useless) notes to read more by her. Boyne is also on my list, but so far has never made it to the top! However it’ll be one of his adult books when I get to him – sadly I’ve lost the ability to enjoy children’s fiction somewhere along the way…

    • Naomi says:

      I get what you mean about children’s fiction. I was actually surprised by how much I liked Boyne’s children’s books.
      When you do get to either of them, I’ll be curious to see which ones you pick! (They both have so many good books to choose from!)

    • Grab the Lapels says:

      I feel similarly about young adult novels. Even when the content is interesting and important, it takes me forever to finish the book because they’re so long yet simply written, which doesn’t appeal to me.

  5. Sarah Emsley says:

    I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place and The Distance Between Us, both of which I read this winter. Glad to hear you recommend After You’d Gone — I’ll put that one on my list. Are you thinking of reading her new memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am? It sounds intriguing and also sort of terrifying.

  6. Sarah's Book Shelves says:

    Oh my gosh – you have to read Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies! It’s absolutely fantastic…and the only book I’ve read by him. I want to read more.

    And I’m planning to try O’Farrell this year – have her new memoir on hold at the library and also snagged This Must Be the Place on a Kindle deal…hoping to get to that later this year.

    • Naomi says:

      I think you’re going to like O’Farrell!
      And, yes, I’ve heard some pretty great things about The Heart’s Invisible Furies. In fact, I’m a little afraid to read that one first, in case it’s all down hill from there! 🙂

  7. Kristilyn says:

    I’ve never read ANY John Boyne or Maggie O’Farrell but have been wanting to for quite some time! I might have to pick up a few titles later this year. I’m not sure how I’d feel about the writing style of the O’Farrell book but who knows. I’ve been eyeing The Heart’s Invisible Furies for some time now, too!

  8. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    I really do enjoy Maggie O’Farrell, and After You’d Gone was one of my favorites. Apart from that, I’d say that The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is the best one, or at least the one I read first and loved best and the one that caters most specifically to my personal interests. :p

  9. Sarah says:

    I seem to be drawn to reading about wartime at the moment, and your review of the John Boyne has made me wonder whether I should throw some children’s fiction into the mix. Also, ‘After You’d Gone’ was the first Maggie O’Farrell I read. I remember loving it, but can remember nothing else about it. Time for a reread, methinks!

    • Naomi says:

      Another good thing about Boyne’s children’s books is that they’re quick to read, so easy to throw in with heavier war reading. (Although, I have to say, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain was not light!)

  10. madamebibilophile says:

    I haven’t read any Boyne, although I keep meaning to read The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. I really enjoy O’Farrell and try and keep up with her as new books are released, you’ve made me want to re-read After You’d Gone! I also liked the patchwork structure.

  11. buriedinprint says:

    I really enjoyed reading all the rec’s for these two authors: I’ve not yet read either, so I’m making even more notes than you are! I finished my Iris Murdoch novel on the last day of March, but just barely. (And it was a reread – I guess I just wasn’t in the right mood!) Have you read Edna O’Brien? I have heard two interviews with her – one on BBC’s “World Book Club” and one on CBC’s “Writers & Company” and was so impressed with her speaking on The Country Girls Trilogy that it’s been on my TBR for years. I finished only the first volume in March and am almost finished the second one (The Lonely Girl) now. At first, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but, wow, now I can see just how impressive her work was in the 1960s, how utterly daring she was (and is, still, today).

    • Naomi says:

      I have not read either Murdoch or O’Brien, although I did find one of O’Brien’s books at the thrift store not too long ago and brought it home. It’s called Wild Decembers (I had to go look for it to get the title). It doesn’t seem to be one many people are reading. (Which is often the way I prefer it!)
      I noticed you were reading The Country Girls Trilogy, which appeals to me too, except that it’s three books instead of one, which always scares me away. 🙂

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