Book Review: The Groundsmen

The Groundsmen, by Lynn Buckle, is a brutal and disturbing story about an Irish family caught up in a generational cycle of abuse. It is told from five points of view. The protagonists are all victims of a community unwilling to confront the actions of those living within their midst. Dark secrets fester but are kept.

Louis is a successful IT manager who moved his wife, Cally, and their daughters, Andi and Cassie, to the newly built suburbs of Dublin before the Celtic Tiger economy collapsed. Now Cally spends much of her day in bed. Teenaged Andi resents that she is left to look out for her little sister. Five year old Cassie copes with the familial disharmony by pretending to be a dog, burying objects that represent hurtful behaviours in the garden. Louis’s brother, Toby, is a regular visitor. Louis and Toby have always been close but the truth of their relationship is toxic.

The story opens on a typical weekend. Louis and Toby are getting drunk watching football on TV, internally fantasising about what they would do to women they know. The violent degradation inherent in their thoughts is sickening to consider.

Cassie is in the garden burying the remote control. Andi is checking the personal treasures she hides in her wardrobe.

Cally has escaped upstairs and is thinking with disgust of what her husband has become – the rank smell and diseased skin that he regularly forces on her.

When Cassie becomes too lively inside the house she is punished. She copes with the pain by going elsewhere in her mind, thinking of all the items on her childish want list. Her family cannot understand that much of her behaviour is a cry for love, regarding her as weird and a nuisance.

Andi seeks love on line, posting photographs of herself at the behest of a boy. Toby has noticed how his niece’s body is developing.

The following Monday Louis oversleeps making him late into work. On arrival he discovers that Toby has been sacked. Inappropriate images were observed on his computer. There is to be an investigation. Louis struggles to make sense of what he is being told. As the story progresses the reader comes to understand that these adults operate in a state of denial about consequences. Damaging behaviours have led to a spiral of sordid desires which they refuse to acknowledge.

Louis regards women as objects available for his pleasure, resenting any agency they acquire. Cally recognises that she should act to protect her children but, inured to a life of submission, is overwhelmed. Louis will do whatever it takes to hold onto what he believes is his by right. Toby has his own agenda.

The subject matter and detail made this a challenging story to read. The author remains resolute in portraying the extent of the degeneracy and wider culpability. This is savage social realism, the twitching net curtain torn asunder. It is searing in its plausibility.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher époque press.

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Guest Post by Lyn Farrell, author of ‘The Wacky Man’

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When Lucy at Legend Press invited me to take part in the blog tour for ‘The Wacky Man’ I had not yet read the book. I was told that it was “very hard hitting, fiction but part of it autobiographically inspired.” I was intrigued but also a little nervous given the subject matter (child abuse). The author told me that some agents had rejected it because of the brutality, but that she needed to give a voice to the voiceless, the child/teenager at its heart.

When I finished the book I immediately emailed Lyn to say “Wow!” Yes, it is hard hitting but what a fantastic read (my review is here). I am today delighted to have the opportunity to share with you this guest post which gives some insight into why the author wrote as she did.  

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Books saved me. They got me through a traumatic childhood and ever since have been my anchor and joy in life. It’s no wonder then that fiction holds a special place in my soul. I think the seeds of wanting to write could well have been planted the minute I learned to read the Mr Men books, particularly my favourite, Mr Dizzy. I can still feel the delight I got from entering his world only to shed tears when poor Mr Dizzy was bullied and then, finally, to laugh again when he triumphed. I wanted to create more worlds like this to escape into.

I’ve carried ‘The Wacky Man’ around with me for about thirty years. I ignored it through self-doubt for about twenty then finally gave it a shot and took another ten years to write it. On reflection most of that final decade was spent learning how to write – vast amounts of prose that never made it to the book – so that I could, at long last, transfer what I held in thought onto the written page. I know it’s a brutal read. There was no way around that without changing the essential essence of the book.

The world in this particular novel had to be bleak so that readers get a sense of what it is like to be a battered child. It wasn’t an easy novel to write either. It is inspired by real events, real horror, real violence. Many times I’d be overcome with sadness or anger and have to stop working and there is one section of it that I still can’t read without crying. It needed to be written, not only for me, but for all children who live through the nightmare of violence at home. I’m proud that I managed it. And I’m absolutely proud of my sisters and brothers who have encouraged me since I finally admitted I was writing it (I kept my writing a secret from everyone except my mentor until it was almost finished).

Writing the novel was also difficult in the technical sense. I’ve had sleepless nights and fruitless days where words disobeyed and refused to line up in the right order and when events got muddled up time wise and I had to rework whole chapters to sort it out. I’ve worked myself to exhaustion at times, fuelled by too much sugar and not enough vitamins and I’ve sat for weeks on end without adequate exercise just because I couldn’t leave a chapter alone until it was ‘better’. However, I’ve also been extremely fortunate that the amazing Clio Gray, herself an award winning author, was my novel mentor. We met online by chance and she supported me for the last 2 years of writing the book. She taught me so much about how to hone my writing and when I lost faith she demanded that I kept going. Without her, I wouldn’t have finished it and I certainly wouldn’t have known about the Luke Bitmead Bursary Award.

From winning the award onwards it’s been a wonderfully exciting, and at times surreal, journey to publication. And though I thought I’d only write one novel, I’m currently addicted to writing. The novel I’m working on at the moment is about the healing power of unusual friendship. I hope it turns out as well as The Wacky Man but I also hope it doesn’t take as long. I don’t think Legend Press could wait that long.

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The Wacky Man Blog Tour

‘The Wacky Man’ is published by Legend Press and is available to buy now.

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