Off the Shelf: Strange Flowers
By Donal Ryan Doubleday ISBN 9780857525222 2020 230 pp.
Review by Terry Kenneally
One of my favorite writers, Donal Ryan, has now written five novels. Strange Flowers is set in North Tipperary in the mid-1970s.
Paddy and Kit Gladney live in a hillside cottage belonging to wealthy landowners and employers, the Jackmans. Paddy’s a grounds man on their farm estate and does the postal run for the local village.
The couples twenty- year -old daughter, Moll, vanishes one morning, disappearing from their lives and causing a fracture of grief through their rural existence, which is crippling. It can mean only one of two things: Moll Gladney was either pregnant or dead, and it was hard to know which one of those was worse.
And then Moll walks back through the gate five years later; thin, sheepish with a smoking habit, and tight lipped about her departure. Shortly thereafter comes soft spoken Alexander. He, a policeman ,warily informs Paddy and Kit, he is not only English, and “ a stranger to the area,” but a “black man.” Like Moll’s desertion, Alexander’s arrival will upend life in the farmhouse.
The motif that that runs through Strange Flowers is the separation of parents and their children and the anguish this causes. The idyllic life of Paddy and Kit Gladney was shattered when their daughter disappeared. The prodigal’s return five years later initially brings joy but when they learn she left behind in London not only a husband but also a son, Joshua, their lives are upended again.
Joshua’s appearance gives the novel its title: “the perfect, unblemished whiteness of this strange flower.” A generation later, history will repeat itself when Moll’s son suddenly runs off to London to “find himself.”
Ryan has enjoyed a remarkable rise since his debut, The Spinning Heart, which won the Irish Book of the Year and Guardian First Book Award. Ryan’s writing has been praised for the beautiful paragraphs. Strange Flowers is a TOP SHELF read.
*Terrence J Kenneally is an attorney and owner of The Kenneally Law Firm in Rocky River, Ohio. Mr. Kenneally represents insureds and insurance companies in legal defense throughout the state of Ohio. He received his Master’s Degree from John Carroll University in Irish