“Don’t spend your life as a pupil.” – Reading in the Dark
I came across Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane on a shelf in the community hall of a small town in Co. Wexford, Ireland. I was scanning the titles and there it was. Having heard of Seamus Deane and of this work, I wrestled the novel from the clutches of the tightly packed neighbouring tomes and paid the asking price of one euro for it.
Reading in the Dark is composed of snapshots of life in the town of Derry in Northern Ireland between 1945 and 1971. The narrator is a Catholic boy whose story unfolds as he comes of age and uncovers the mystery at the core of his family’s existence and which, perhaps, perpetuates its ultimate destruction. The language is candid and poetically beautiful, and the cast of characters with their web of interwoven lives offer an insight into Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Communities were routinely ripped apart by shame, secrets and brutality. It has been suggested that many of the events in the story are autobiographical.
Despite the inherent tragedy in most of the situations described in Reading in the Dark, the book contains some exceptionally funny moments. The author here suggests that no matter how difficult and contorted life becomes, hilarity can be found in the most mundane circumstances. A particularly amusing moment occurs when the narrator finds himself in the priest’s office at school and is being taught about the “facts of life”, or sex, more specifically.
I perused Reading in the Dark in the sweltering heat that has recently enveloped Belgium. A favourite beverage was iced tea with lemongrass, a summer special at OR Café on Brussels’s Place Jourdan. I love drinks that are sour and find them especially refreshing when the weather is desert-like. The sharpness of the lemongrass acted as a reminder of the very real story I was reading.