Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane
Published 1996: First Edition / Hardcover / As New
Original red cloth and pictorial dust jacket. 233 as new clean and bright unmarked pages. Slight shelf wear.
Collection can be arranged by Appointment Churchtown, Dublin 14
Postage service is also available.
Reading in the Dark‘s unnamed narrator looks back on his childhood and adolescence in
the 1940s and 50s in the Bogside neighborhood of Derry, a troubled town on the border of
the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Members of the boy’s family have been
involved in the IRA, whose guerrilla war for Irish independence continued in the North
when the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 left six northern counties in the
control of Great Britain. In towns like Derry, the IRA continued to find willing
recruits among the Catholic minority, which faced discrimination in both employment and
housing and was routinely harrassed by the police.
Ireland’s history of political violence is the ostensible cause of a web of betrayals
that is the family secret–a secret that the narrator feels compelled to unearth. The
older brother of the boy’s father, his uncle Eddie, has disappeared on the night of an
IRA shootout with British forces in a local distillery in November 1922. To the family’s
great shame, Eddie is widely believed to have been an informer, that perennial bad seed
in Ireland’s history of failed uprisings, but no one knows for sure what happened to
him. The mystery only deepens when, on his deathbed, the boy’s grandfather tells the
boy’s mother something about Eddie that pitches her into a vortex of grief and
guilt–something that she refuses to divulge.
Another of the boy’s uncles, Tony McIlhenny, has disappeared as well, suddenly leaving
his pregnant wife, and is rumored to be living in Chicago. The boy’s mother knows
something about Tony’s fate too. She shares this knowledge with a half-mad local
character called Crazy Joe but keeps it from her husband, her son, and her sister, who
was abandoned by McIlhenny.
Once the boy begins to piece together the fragments of his family’s tortured history, he
cannot leave it alone–he pursues the truth until it turns his mother against him and
ultimately drives him away from home, despite his painful love for his parents. This is
the story of a family laboring under a crushing past, suffering from its own guilty
secrets–and of a boy who refuses to adhere to the family’s unspoken pact of silence.
Told in a poetic language that is dense with the felt immediacy of daily life, it is a
coming-of-age story that is searing and unforgettable.