I finished Deirdre Madden's first novel, Hidden Symptoms, early this morning. Written in 1986, it displays many of the hallmarks of her more mature work like Molly Fox's Birthday, Remembering Light and Stone and One by One in the Darkness - complexity in her characters, their interior struggles with art, faith, politics, and family - but with an extra dose of passion. It has less reserve than her more recent books. This novel concerns Theresa, a university literature student, whose twin brother is murdered in the violent struggle in Northern Ireland, and does interior battle in maintaining her faith in light of her suffering. The narrative has a drive more forceful than her more recent books, but no less humane. Madden's work has a seriousness about people who think deeply about their inner lives, who don't spout platitudes and formulas around finding love and meaning in them, and who appreciate that this struggle is an ongoing feature of a thoughtful existence. This is the kind of fiction I really value, which makes me glad that I still have The Birds of the Innocent Wood and Authenticity on the pile and that leaves Nothing Is Black, Snake's Elbows, and Thanks for Telling Me, Emily yet to find and to read.
And that brings me to my 52nd book for 2009. I'm likely to start another book this year but I probably won't finish one, so let's review the stats:
included in the fiction are:
4 written for young readers
3 fantasy/science fiction
No poetry collections this year
1 short story or novella volume
the rest fall into the "general" fiction category
25 were written by women
27 were written by men
This year, all but 5 were originally written in English and those authors were Irish, English, South African, and American.
I'll post my best general fiction read or reads of 2009 some time in the next day. For the other categories, scroll down.