6 Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ to ‘Rememberings’

Six degrees of separation logo for memeTime to get my linking hat on!

Yes, it’s the first Saturday of the month, which means it’s time to participate in Six Degrees of Separation, a meme hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

I’m feeling a bit brain dead at the moment (I started a new job three weeks ago and my bandwidth is operating at full capacity), so I am going to try to keep this short and sweet: here are the six books I have chosen for my chain. As ever, click the title to read my full review of each book.

This month the starting book is…

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ by Peter Carey (2000)

I have a love-hate relationship with Peter Carey and this is one of those novels that falls into the latter camp. In my pre-blogging days, I had a hardback copy of True History and tried to read it several times but always became unstuck by about page 50, so abandoned it and never went back. I was a much younger, less experienced reader then, so I reckon I would probably get on with it quite well now. I do, at some stage, plan to give it another go, especially as it was recently featured in the Australian TV series The Books that Made Us.

All that aside, given True History is about a bushranger — the notorious Ned Kelly — my first link is…

The Burial by Courtney Collins

‘The Burial’ by Courtney Collins (2013)

The Burial tells the tale of Jessie Hickman, a female bushranger who rustles horses and duffs cattle, in the years after the Great War.

Another featuring castle rustling is…

‘Coal Creek’ by Alex Miller (2014)

In this novel, a simple, uneducated man joins the police in outback Queensland in the 1950s. His job makes use of his exemplary horsemanship to help track thieves and stolen stock. But his easygoing nature is tested to the limits when a new boss from the city changes the whole way the local community is policed.

Another story about rural policing is…

‘Bitter Wash Road’ by Garry Disher (2013)

Bitter Wash Road (published as Hell to Pay in the US) is the first in a trilogy known as “the Paul Hirschhausen novels”. Set in South Australia’s wheatbelt, three hours north of Adelaide, the hot, dry landscape is as much a character as the city policeman “Hirsch” who has been exiled to a single-officer police station.

Another book featuring a single-officer police station is…

A Border Station

‘A Border Station’ by Shane Connaugton (1989)

This is a beautiful coming-of-age tale set in the 1950s that follows the day-to-day dramas of a young boy growing up in rural Ireland in a remote house attached to a police barracks, where his father — a fierce, bad-tempered police sergeant — is the only employee.

Another book about the son of a policeman is…

‘Memoir’ by John McGahern (2005)

The late John McGahern is arguably one of Ireland’s greatest writers. He was the eldest son of a policeman, with whom he had a troubled relationship. This memoir concentrates mainly on his childhood and adolescence growing up in rural Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s and reads very much like a love letter to his adored mother, a school teacher, who died of breast cancer when he was eight years old.

Another memoir by an Irish writer, albeit of songs, is…

‘Rememberings’ by Sinead O’Connor (2021)

Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor has had a troubled history, both with the public and her own family, and this memoir is a beautifully written account of her side of the story. It’s funny, irreverent, unflinchingly honest and powerful — a bit like the woman herself.

So that’s this month’s #6Degrees: from a novel about a notorious Irishman to a memoir about a notorious Irishwoman, via books about a female bushranger, rural policing and being the son of a garda sergeant.

Have you read any of these books? 

Please note, you can see all my other Six Degrees of Separation contributions here.

Black Swan, Book review, Fiction, Ireland, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, Shane Connaughton

‘A Border Station’ by Shane Connaughton

A Border Station
Fiction – paperback; Black Swan; 240 pages; 2017.

Shane Connaughton is probably best known as the co-writer of the screenplay for the film My Left Foot for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1989. He’s also an actor, who has appeared in a wide range of films and TV dramas, including Coronation Street and Neil Jordan’s The Miracle.

A Border Station, his fiction debut, was shortlisted for the Guinness Peat Aviation Book Award upon publication in 1989. It has recently been republished by Black Swan to tie in with the sequel, Married Quarters, which came out earlier this year (and which I bought in Dublin in the summer and am now looking forward to reading very much).

Life in rural Ireland

It’s a beautiful and eloquent book set in the 1950s that follows the day-to-day dramas of a young boy growing up in rural Ireland in a remote house, attached to a police barracks, that has no electricity, no running water.

We never find out the boy’s name, nor do we find out his age, but we do know his father is a fierce, bad-tempered man, a police sergeant at a Garda station on the border between the Six Counties and the Republic of Ireland.

We also know he thinks the world of his mother, a good-looking, mild-mannered woman, with whom he shares a bed, and he loves to spend his time outdoors, exploring the rolling green hills and country lanes by bicycle despite the often miserable weather.

As often as he could, he escaped from the barracks to roam the drumlin fields or sit with the farmers in hedge or house until the rain had stopped.
There was water everywhere. In the sky, in the lakes, in the light; running off the hills, off the trees, off the roofs and cornered into barrels; in the lime-bottomed well, in the village pump, in the rain gauge at the rear of the Station, always in the air and constantly on tap in women’s eyes and children’s hearts.
‘They’re born with water in their veins instead of blood,’ his father said. Bucketing rain they called ‘A damp class of a day’.

The story, which is supposedly based on Connaughton’s own childhood, unfolds in seven interlinked chapters or — whisper it — short stories. There’s no real plot, instead we get a series of vignettes focusing on the boy’s home life. There’s nothing about school, little about friends; his world essentially revolves around his parents: the mother he idealises; the father he fears.

A young boy’s point of view

Because it’s written from a small boy’s point of view, the reader comprehends more than the child himself. We see that there are problems between his parents in the “bedroom department”; that his dad does not necessarily wield his power in a fair way; that he is prejudiced against Protestants or those that live over the border; that it may, in fact, be inappropriate for the boy to share a bed with his mother.

And it is this gap between a child’s naivety and the real world that makes A Border Station so deeply moving: it’s completely unsentimental, but is infused with a lingering sense of sadness, of people’s potential being thwarted by circumstance, religion and bad behaviour.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some terrific set pieces, some of which are ripe with black humour. The chapter entitled Beatrice is actually laugh-out-loud funny — the boy’s father deliberately chops down a tree he shouldn’t chop down on the neighbouring demesne owned by Lady Sarah Butler-Coote, an octogenarian Protestant spinster, and then pretends it is an accident. It’s tinged with sadness and a deep sense of injustice though, for the boy is blamed — and he saw it coming but is too young to do anything about it.

All in all, A Border Station is written with an almost unbearable ring of authenticity, nicely balanced with empathy, pathos and a good sense of humour. Reminiscent of the late great John McGahern, this is a truly lovely read. I can’t wait to crack open the sequel.