Book Review: The Iron Age

The Iron Age, by Arja Kajermo (illustrated by Susanna Kajermo Törner), is a story of a childhood. It begins in 1950s Finland when the narrator is four years old. She lives on a small farm with her war damaged father, stoic mother, angry grandmother and two older brothers. Neighbouring farms are owned by wider family, some more well off than others but all reliant on the land. Properties are connected by dirt tracks and a lake. The log cabins lack running water and electricity. The people raise, grow or make the bulk of what they need. Life is hard, made moreso for the unnamed child by her father’s volatility.

Of course, the child knows of no other way. She observes the behaviour of those around her, the anger and resentments the adults feel. Her language is simple yet conveys the tradition and attitudes under which they all live. Told with a dry, dark humour, day to day life passes and the seasons turn.

Money is tight so Father travels to distant towns after harvest has been gathered to find work. He returns with gifts and dreams for a future which he berates his country for failing to provide. This future he talks of appears a myth to the child, much like his stories from the past which he shares repeatedly with local visitors. She listens avidly but with a lack of understanding, shown to effect by her literal interpretations.

Eventually there is a row so bitter the family must move away. Father takes them to a distant town and then onwards to Sweden where everything changes. They do not speak the language, the child must attend school. Books become a solace, her voice a hindrance.

Mother strikes out for a degree of independence of which Father disapproves. His traditional attitudes are now as anachronistic as the clothes he chose to impress, viewed askance by the Swedish.

The child has little control over the detail of her existence yet she harbours her secrets, survives by living inside her head. The denouement felt sudden, perhaps because I didn’t want the story to end.

Told in sparse, droll language this is a beautifully painted portrayal of the transience of time and place when young. The illustrations work perfectly with the text, adding an extra dimension. A fable like depiction of unbelonging that I recommend you read.

The Iron Age is published by Tramp Press.

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Book Review: Solar Bones

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Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack, is the most accurate adherence to stream of consciousness style writing that I have come across. The entire novel, all 223 pages in the edition I read, is presented as one continuous sentence. Do not let this put you off. Despite its apparently mundane subject matter it is an engaging and compelling read.

The narrator is Marcus Conway, a native of the county of Mayo in Ireland. When the book opens Marcus is standing in the kitchen of his family home listening to the Angelus bell ring out from the village church a mile away.

We learn that Marcus has been married for twenty-five years to Mairead, a teacher at a local school. They have raised two children – Agnes who is an artist, and Darragh who is casually working his way across Australia. The committed parents have adjusted to the initial emptiness felt when their grown-up children first moved away. They have settled into a comfortable routine.

Marcus looks around him recalling history as he has lived it through familiar places, possessions and significant events. He is an engineer by profession working for the local council on infrastructure projects. He is frustrated by the influence self-serving politicians exert on the decision making process. He takes pride in his ability to work to a standard.

Raised on a farm he remembers his childhood and then the deaths of his parents. His relationships have at times been rocky as life sometimes is. Mostly though he feels grateful for the chances he has been given. In many ways his is an ordinary life, as he wished it to be.

It did not take long to slip into the cadence of the writing. Its beauty is in the detail, the observations made and insights given. The reader is drawn into the intricacies of this man’s everyday pleasures and irritations. Not a single turn of phrase is dull or misplaced.

A haunting elegy that captures the battles and the beauty of existence. This is an extraordinary, life-affirming read.