Friday, June 7, 2013

Review of Once in Another World by Brendan John Sweeney (New Island, 2013)

Holland was recruited into the Movement as a teenager.  Just over twenty years after the 1916 Easter Rising and the Movement is at a low ebb, increasingly marginalised by a society wanting some sort of closure after independence and civil war.  Holland, however, is still filled with idealism and is prepared to fight for the liberation of the six counties of Northern Ireland.  When he’s offered an assignment chauffeuring and protecting Farkas, a Hungarian businessman working in Dublin, he reluctantly takes the job.  The perks and the clandestine nature of some of the work are welcome, as is hanging out with the cold and distant Sabine, a Jewish refugee from Berlin.  It seems that Farkas is operating a shady scheme to get Jewish assets out of the Reich and the Movement is protecting him for a cut.  But all is not quite what it seems and on a trip to England, Holland ends up shooting a man dead.  When they return to Ireland, Farkas disappears and the Movement wants answers from Sabine.  Fearing for both their lives, Holland takes Sabine deep into rural Ireland hoping that their pursuers tire of the chase and they can slip across the Irish sea to Britain.  The secrets that Sabine hold, however, are worth the chase.

Once in Another World is an excellent debut novel set in Dublin and Meath in 1937.  Sweeney captures the political intrigue and games of the time, as well as the atmosphere, sense of place, and social relations of urban and rural Ireland.  The historical contextualisation is very well done and is woven into the story without it ever feeling like a history lesson.  Indeed, the narrative is all tell and no show, and the prose is nicely crafted.  The plot is well executed, effectively divided into three acts, with urban and political scenes bookending a rural sojourn.  The register in the rural part of the novel is slightly different, focusing on the awkward relationship between Holland and Sabine, and whilst evocative it would have be interesting to get a little more of their back stories.  Nevertheless, the characterisation is strong and by keeping the focus tightly on the lead characters of Holland, Sabine, and a handful of others, Sweeney is able to flesh out their interactions and personalities.  Overall, a very enjoyable story that is easy to imagine being adapted as a television drama or a play.

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