Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews MOTHERS AND SONS

Colm Toibin

Ms. Hen read this book because she is interested in Ireland. She is not a mother or a son, and she most likely never will be, but she wanted to try to understand human relationships. She discovered that this isn’t simply a collection of short stories about mothers and sons; they are stories about how hard life can be at times, and how everything can seem like it won't get any darker, but it does.

The word that came to Ms. Hen’s mind to describe these stories is visceral. There are moments in each of the stories when she could see or smell the things that make up life itself, that it’s not just writing, she felt as if she was living these characters’ lives.

In the story “The Name of the Game,” Nancy opens a chip shop in order to pay off her debts and help get away from the small town where she feels trapped. Her son thinks the business is permanent and he will inherit it one day, but she dreams of moving to Dublin. The shop, which is above their home, makes their home smell like cooking oil, “But despite the money, nothing could be done about the smell of cooking oil, right up to their bedrooms.” Ms. Hen could smell the fish and chips in their house. She’s never been covered with the smell of fish and chips, but she can imagine how horrible it could be. Nancy’s young daughters are mortified when the children at school mock them.

The story, “Three Friends,” is about the death of Fergus’ mother. His three friends take him to a rave on the beach shortly after she dies where they drink and take a variety of drugs. Fergus doesn’t want to think about his mother’s death, and his friend Mick makes advances toward Fergus while they are swimming the next morning. Fergus is high and confused, but he enjoys what happens. Ms. Hen understands that people do outrageous things when they are grieving, when combined with drugs. Ms. Hen isn’t sure if Fergus would do such a thing if he wasn’t in grief, but she doesn’t know. From reading the stories in this collection Ms. Hen grasps that life can be unpredictable sometimes.

The collection concludes with the story, “A Long Winter,” which is set in Spain, the only one not that does not take place in Ireland. It is about a family of farmers: a mother, a father, and two sons Miquel, and Jordi, who is about leave to join the military. The father and Miquel discover that the mother has started drinking, and they try to stop her. The mother becomes upset, and leaves the house. The men try to find her. When Ms. Hen read this story, she could imagine the place where these people live: a rural village in northern Spain where it snows and the neighbors hate each other, where people do their best to exist day to day, but they don’t always succeed.

Ms. Hen thought this might be a book that did not have any hens, but she was pleasantly surprised that the last story contains some rather important ones. On the farm, the mother cooked and took care of the rabbits and hens. After the mother disappeared the hens didn’t like it, “Slowly the hens began to lay fewer eggs and the rabbits began to die.” The mother disappeared and the hens didn’t like the way Miquel took care of them, and they revolted in their own way.  

Ms. Hen loved this book. It’s special in the way that it shows the reader other parts of the world, and how people are different everywhere, but yet are the same. Everyone just wants to be happy and survive, as displayed by the stories in this collection. Ms. Hen gives MOTHERS AND SONS five feathers up.

Mikki Mikao photobombs the picture

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