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Imagine you are in a crowd. Everyone is having different conversations. You cycle between these conversations only catching snippets. Change the venue to the gossip of the interred in a Irish cemetery at the onset of World War II. A few of the characters, as if in an amnesic round, offer the same response under different circumstances.

“-Ah, come on, like, there was an ambush. The end of a dark night. They crocked Curran’s donkey from going into Curran’s field up his road.”

“- I remember it well. I twisted my ankle…”

“-… There was every single tiny drop of the forty-two pints lining my stomach when I was tying up Tomasheen…”

“- I remember it well. I twisted my ankle…”

In Alan Titley’s translation of  Máirtin Ó Cadhain’s Irish novel “Cré na Cille”, life after death resembles life. The spitefulness, jealousies, pettiness, and pretensions of a small Irish village survive disintegration of the body. For these souls news of the living arrives with each fresh burial.

This novel is not an easy read. It is almost entirely dialogue, and could, with editing, be adapted to theatre. Mr.  Titley provides a guide to the continuous dialogue, which is indispensable for the first two chapters.

– Beginning of Talk        -… Middle of Talk   … Conversation, or Missing Talk

An example:

” -…’The nettle-ridden patches of Bally Donough, you say

_ The little pimply hillocks in your town land couldn’t even grow nettles with all of the fleas on them…

-… Fell from a stack of corn…

By the hokey, as you might say, myself and the guy from Menlow were writing to one another…

_’… Do you think that this war is ‘The War of the Two Foreigners’? I says to Patchy Johnnny.

– Wake up, you lout. That war’s been over since 1918.”

Until you catch the rhythm and learn the characters and their lines, the novel may read as if it is a stream of consciousness. I am sure it was not an easy novel to write, nor to translate. The superb Irish author, Colm Tóibín, believes it is the greatest novel to be written in the Irish language. Irish heritage is a cultural and literary advantage in reading the book.

The central character is Catriona Paudeen who is newly buried. She is vituperative to all, but holds a special place in hell for her sister Nell, who married her perceived beau and who in Catriona’s mind cheated her out of an inheritance from their sister Baba and of a relation’s land, due to Catriona’s earlier demise.

For some reason the U.S. 1980s television program “thirty something” came to my mind while I was reading this. The show depicted self-absorbed baby boomer parents in all their angst. In the event you were lacking problems in your life, the show offered a litany of others. Reading “The Dirty Dust” was for me like listening to one long gripe. Satirical, or honestly reflective of a certain Irish town, it became tedious. It is not a flattering portrait.

To be blunt, I struggle to complete the book, hoping that it would evolve. As there is little prose beyond dialogue, it might be read as a play with a focus on the lilt of the Irish. The characters do not develop by intent, but this does not keep the reader engaged. The lines are telegraphed.

As ethnic literature it may be worth a go for those from Ireland or of Irish descent. If you have less familiarity with this part of island, you likely will enjoy other novels more.

 

 

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