Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan: True love

Cover image for Strange Floers by Donal RyanAfter a slightly sticky start with Donal Ryan’s The Thing About December I’ve become an ardent fan of his fiction, my admiration increasing first with All We Shall Know then From A Low and Quiet Sea, both of which shared themes of love and redemption in their different ways as does Strange Flowers. Beginning in the early ‘70s, Ryan’s new novel is about the Gadneys whose daughter leaves home one morning with no explanation, only to return five years later.

Questions presented themselves to the front of their minds in ragged jostling queues

Paddy and Kit married late. Molly is their much-wanted daughter, taciturn and hard for them to understand. When she disappears, Paddy continues his postal rounds, carrying on with his job as a farm labourer for the Jackmans, stoically accepting both sympathy and curiosity. The village is agog at Molly’s disappearance but as time wears on, the Gadneys are left to themselves. Then Molly returns, upset but as close mouthed as ever, throwing crumbs of information about her life in London to a patient Kit and Paddy. Shortly after her return, the priest and sergeant pay a visit, telling tales of a stranger heard asking about the Gadneys in a local pub. Molly is distraught, talking of the man who has been stalking her in London, but when Paddy meets Alexander a different story emerges which will change the Gadneys’ household irrevocably bringing joy, love, division and grief.

Streams of flowers dazzling through the green along the roadsides and lanes. Branches drooped with berries reaching out from hedgerows, everything blooming and buzzing and dripping with life

Hard to write about this book without either giving too much of its story away, the slow revelation of which was part of its enjoyment for me, or without gushing over the beauty of Ryan’s writing. It’s structured almost like a parable, each part given the name of a book from the Bible, becoming much more than the story of a prodigal daughter as Ryan explores different forms of love through this family that grows in a way that Molly’s parents could never have imagined. Ryan’s characters are perceptively almost affectionately drawn – Paddy’s determination to accept the stranger in their midst which grows into a deep bond is particularly touching. Each book Ryan delivers seems to be more elegantly lyrical than the last, whether it’s his descriptions of landscape or his compassionate exploration of love in its many forms and its consequences. A beautiful novel, full of gorgeous prose and humanity.

Doubleday: London 9780857525222 240 pages Hardback

24 thoughts on “Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan: True love”

  1. My post about this book has gone up today as well. I did gush, because I think the language is just magnificent. Everything Ryan writes simply gets better. I’m tempted to say that this is the best book I’ve read so far this year.

  2. I’ve only read The Spinning Heart, which I liked rather than loved (in spite of the very clever construction). This, however, sounds more appealing. Along the lines of a Colm Toibin, would you say?

  3. Donal Ryan is the Θεός /God of writers.
    He is so full of love for the Irish country landscape and for people in general. It’s the Ireland of my childhood that he so exquisitely describes and the beauty of the ordinary country people around him. The love he got from his own parents, whom he describes as the nicest of people, is also projected in this book in the characters of Molls mother and father. Its full of beauty and evokes the best of 1970s rural Ireland. Simply sublime!

  4. Pingback: Finishing the 2020 review pile! Hornby-Ryan-Nolan – Annabookbel

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