Book Reviews: Cecelia Ahern explores the fragility of memory

The Marble Collector by Cecelia Ahern tells the tale of a woman trying to piece together the story of her father's life
The Marble Collector by Cecelia Ahern tells the tale of a woman trying to piece together the story of her father's life


The Marble Collector by Cecilia Ahern, published in hardback by HarperCollins

"WE all have things we never want to forget. We all need a person to remember them, just in case."

Sabrina Boggs's life is unexpectedly turned upside down when she discovers a vast marble collection among her father's possessions.

The man she thought she knew so well becomes a total stranger.

Cecilia Ahern masterfully guides us on a journey of discovery and hidden truths, switching between Sabrina's narrative and flashbacks from her father, Fergus, and his secret double life.

We learn that Fergus has suffered a stroke in his late 40s and his memory has become blurred and inconsistent.

He lives in a care home, under the watchful eye of a charming nurse, Lea.

His recollections are patchy and as the reader witnesses Fergus reminiscing about key moments in his life, we learn about the trials and tribulations of growing up in Dublin with many siblings and not much money.

When Sabrina notices a glimmer of excitement in her father's eyes when she presents him with his marbles, she's convinced there is a wealth of untold stories and makes it her mission to discover the truth.

This story is no typical 'hidden family secret' plot. Ahern shrewdly narrates various anecdotes of Fergus's life, some sweet and touching, others much darker and sobering.

Piece by piece we learn how Fergus has transformed from a passionate and open-minded young boy into the secretive and closed man Sabrina is desperate to understand.

This is a heart-warming and thought-provoking tale exploring the fragility of memory and the complications of family relationships.

Ahern is an expert storyteller, transporting the reader to different pivotal moments in Fergus's childhood, adolescence and young adult life.

These reflective chapters worked more effectively that Sabrina's modern-day manic narrative, but nevertheless this is a charming and poignant novel.

Heather Doughty

The Ladybird Book of the Hipster, by Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, published by Penguin

IN a Belfast bookshop the other day, I glanced down and spotted the familiar Ladybird logo.

Only this title wasn't about ponies or science, it was a guide to The Hipster. As someone who lives off the Ormeau Road, I'm familiar with the species, but this spoof Ladybird title explores the genus in full.

"This is a hipster," it opens helpfully with a nice illustration before telling us that he is "childless, unaccountably wealthy and always well turned out."

His favourite things are "arts, porridge, scarves, anything reclaimed from French factories, like this dog rack".

Beards come later when we meet a group of hipsters in Scandinavia on a facial hair study trip.

The new Ladybirds for Grown-ups series consists of of eight helpful guides on topics such as The Hangover, Dating, Mindfulness and of course The Mid-Life Crisis.

Written by Miranda scriptwriters Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, the aim is to explain our perplexing world to adults just as the originals did to us when we were young. But with a dollop of gentle satire.

The How it Works titles on The Husband and The Wife, for example, are invaluable. We learn that husbands are easy to maintain once you remember they run on sausages and beer.

And wives, it appears, like the fact their husbands arrive half an hour late as it gives them access to the moral high ground.

Of course, some lessons are tough. As The Ladybird Book of the Mid-Life Crisis opens: "When we’re young we wonder if we’ll be a surgeon or an astronaut. We can be anything we want to be. Then one day we can’t." As Morris said, writing that bit made him cry.

Jane Hardy

Arthur Griffith, by Owen McGee, published by Merrion Press

ARTHUR Griffith was "the greatest loser of 20th century Irish history", according to historian Owen McGee. This new biography sets out to redress the balance by highlighting the significance of Griffith’s contribution to the foundation of the Irish state.

The book provides detailed accounts of Griffith the journalist, the politician and the economic thinker, showing how he was one of the few active politicians at the time to consider what an independent Ireland might look like economically.

It provides welcome insight into Griffith’s personal life and the way in which his political views were shaped by his early life experience growing up in poverty in Dublin's slums; we also get an insight into his most important personal relationship, his marriage to Maud Sheehan.

However, it is weak in addressing allegations of anti-semitism in Griffith’s early journalism and the conclusion is an overly long, convoluted commentary on the state of independent Ireland with few references to Griffith – a disappointing end to an otherwise informative account of the life of the founder of the original Sinn Féin movement.

Marie Coleman

Queen’s University Belfast

Redmond: A Life Undone by Chris Dooley, published by Gill and Macmillan

IRISH Times foreign editor Chris Dooley's new book on John Redmond, regarded by some as the forgotten man of recent Irish history, highlights the political impact of the man who almost secured Home Rule for Ireland.

Fate, in the form of World War One, intervened of course, and Redmond's role as key figure in Irish nationalism was ultimately overshadowed by those who chose fight Britain during the 1916 rising and after. Dooley attempts to paint a picture of a man "placed on the wrong side of history".

More than100 years since he took centre stage Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, continues to divide opinion. For many he is remembered as the man who encouraged Irishmen to die in foreign fields for Britain while his own countrymen went to war with the British on home soil. For others he was a skilled politician who brought the British to the brink of a deal.

Narrated in the present tense, Dooley's book places the reader in the middle of events as they unfolded a century ago. It's a comprehensive piece of work that shines a light on one of the central figures of modern Irish history.

Connla Young


The Bear Who Went Boo! by David Walliams is published by HarperCollins Children's Books

TO boo or not to boo, that is the question in David Walliams latest children's book. The Bear Who Went Boo! is the perfect stocking filler for 3-6-year-olds this Christmas.

Surrounded by a land of snow and ice lives a very cheeky, yet adorable, polar bear cub who loves to go… BOO! The mischievous picture book is simple yet effective.

I tested in on my five-year-old son who was captivated by the tale and proceeded to run around the house for the rest of the day shouting boo and scarring his little sister.

The colourful cast of characters including puffins, killer whales and a walrus who thinks he could top up his tan by lying naked in the snow, are brought to life by award-winning illustrator Tony Ross, best know for the Horrid Henry series.

His appearance as a judge on Britain's Got Talent seems to have influenced Walliams's storyline as the animals believe they will achieve fame when the television cameras arrive in their kingdom.

Jenny Lee