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Reading in the Dark

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  3,916 ratings  ·  291 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book
Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize
Winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award and International Award

Hugely acclaimed in Great Britain, where it was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and short-listed for the Booker, Seamus Deane's first novel is a mesmerizing story of childhood set against the violence of Northern Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s.
Paperback, First Vintage International Edition, February 1998, 246 pages
Published February 24th 1998 by Vintage Books (first published 1996)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  3,916 ratings  ·  291 reviews

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(4.5) These vivid vignettes of childhood and young adulthood are so convincing that I could have been fooled into believing I was reading a memoir. Indeed, this debut novel has generally been interpreted as heavily autobiographical, with the anonymous narrator, the third of seven children born to Catholic parents in Derry, Northern Ireland, taken to be a stand-in for Deane.

Ireland’s internecine violence is the sinister backdrop to this family’s everyday sorrows, including the death of a child an
Paul Bryant
Sep 25, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels, bookers
Well, the blurbs on the back say: "Marvellous...almost impossible to put down" (Independent on Sunday) and "A profoundly emotive and seamlessly structured exploration of loss and regret. It is also funny and authentic. What more could one ask of a book?" My boorish response, however, is


So it's all about this boy growing up in Northern Ireland with his mother going round the twist and some great big family secret hanging over them like a dentist's drill, all about the grandfather and the unc
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
The book begins with an epigraph from "She Moved Through the Fair":

The people were saying no two were e'er wed
But one had a sorrow that never was said.

Those two lines carry the essence of the story. The long-term consequences of keeping secrets are at the heart of Reading in the Dark.

The unnamed narrator describes his Catholic boyhood in Derry in the 40s and 50s. Both his parents' families have secrets held since the time of the Troubles in the 1920s.
As the protagonist moves from boyhood into
Patrick O'Neil
Sep 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
If you’re Irish, then you’ve probably got a crazy uncle who occasionally comes home from the pub singing “The Boys of 98” at the top of his lungs at three in the morning or your grandmother, after she slipped a little whiskey in your milk to help you sleep, tells you tales of Old Eire that make the Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales look like gobshite. If you’re not, well, then you have to read Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark to truly get a glimpse of the Irish experience – notably the Northern Iris ...more
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A collection of vignettes that gradually coalesce to form a complete narrative revolving around family, death, loyalty, and love. Short, sweet, and stunning, with beautiful, simple writing.
Aug 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, irish
Deane presents Reading in the Dark as a “novel” and I am unclear as to how much is fact and how much is fiction. Much of what he wrote about the dynamic of the Irish family situation rings very true in my own reality. Irish families are a topic close to my heart. His discussion of the things left unsaid in Irish family life rings true and is echoed in many other books about Irish and Irish-American culture, ranging from Alice Carey’s I’ll Know it When I See it, to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, ...more
Aug 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books; I've probably given away 15 copies of this book. Much like Graham Swift's Waterland, this is an impeccably written, elegantly crafted novel. Much prefer this treatment of Irish family life to Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. ...more
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Reading In The Dark is a first person account of an extraordinary childhood. On the surface, the family seems to be stable enough. They are Catholics and the novel’s narrator is about half way along his parents´ progeny. Nothing special there...

They are not rich, and apparently not poor. They get by. The lad explores the neighbourhood, makes friends, starts school. Eventually he proves to be quite academic and he clearly goes from personal success to further personal success.

But all the time the
Oct 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is another book I read for my Northern Ireland class at Notre Dame, which is where Seamus Deane teaches part of the time. He came to visit my class after we'd finished reading it, and I think the entire class mostly gazed at him in awe while he sat with us to discuss it. It is a haunting book, a beautiful book, and ultimately a very tragic book. About the power of secrets, the value of keeping them and not keeping them. It's a very complicated book as well. I remember the class having a who ...more
Nov 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
Couldn't finish this one...which is very rare for me. The quality of the writing was good, however there was no connection between each chapter leaving me disconnected from the book. There were no consistent characters to bond with and no story to lose oneself in. And, having just visited Ireland, I was looking forward to this read. ...more
Oct 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Put aside at pg 172 but not quite ready to abandon and have no idea when or if I'll return to it. Lovely writing but old-old, hate to say but almost stale Irish story of IRA "ghosts." Deane's language makes it fairly fresh, but not enough to keep me going. Problem is I've read so much Irish lit, past and present, on the same subject, and it becomes like reading yet another work on evil legacy of American slavery: there's Morrison's Beloved and there's everything else. And Deane, though talented, ...more
Dec 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
The writing was beautiful, the pace slow, and at times, puzzled me as I tried to figure out where the book was going. But it slowly came together to tell the story of betrayal and guilt and the ripple affects that are felt beyond the first generation. I can't say enough about the writing, which evokes the times, the place, the poetry of the Irish. I actually wished for more drama because the story and the betrayal are really quite dramatic. ...more
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane was a beautiful story that showed how family secrets were tainted by the political conflict in Northern Ireland during the 'Troubles'.
As my second experience of Irish literature, I learnt how mythical folktales about green eyed children taken by fairies and communal anger about victims of police oppression in Derry really shaped the protagonist's identity.
Dec 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
I've read this book three times now. I'm not certain I'll ever perfectly understand it. What I know is that the author has me in his hold; I will follow him wherever this story goes. ...more
Tamsien West (Babbling Books)
Haunting tale of a family twisted by secrets and a society in conflict with itself. Set in Ireland in the 1940s and 50s Reading in the Dark follows a young, unnamed, Catholic boy growing up during one of the many periods of violent conflict between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

"It was a city of bonfires. The Protestants had more than we had. ... triumph of Protestant armies at the Battle of the Boyne, liberation of the city from beseiging Cathoic armies, and burning of traitor Lundy's
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker
This is one of the best books about how growing up feels like - a series of images, knowledge gained through episodes, experiences frozen as memories, truths that increase or diminish love and lots and lots of stories..

At the crux of it is a family secret and the nameless child narrator's growing up is characterized by this secret with people around him talking things he doesn't understand at first. You the reader are expected to do the same and therein lies the fun - you are never right or wro
Michael Johnston
Dec 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
I'm not sure I could say anything about this book other than that it is, in a word, brilliant. Written about a place Deane knew quite well, the book has that rare gift of making the reader feel intimately familiar with a place and a people he has never seen. Questions of truth, family history and the often-messy result of keeping it hidden, as well as vendetta and guilt by association, riddle the book. There are questions as to how much of the book is fiction and how much is fictionalized fact; ...more
Colleen Browne
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Secrets and lies can wreak havoc on a family but when the family lives in the city of Derry in the North of Ireland during the troubles, the secrets can be more dangerous especially when the secret is connected to the troubles. Seamus Deane has written a beautiful, dramatic, and touching novel about a family whose secrets are just too hard to bear. I highly recommend this book. It is the kind of book that makes reading addictive.
BAM Endlessly Booked
This book read exactly like a memoir. Although it was quite serious in subject matter (Irish independence), there were a couple of really humorous chapters describing the narrator's experiences in the classroom. The family dynamics pulled at my heartstrings, especially since the author had the uncanny ability to let the reader easily figure out plot twists on one's own with subtle hints. ...more
May 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
tis is very special. Making me feel all colloquial-like, man dear, boys'o, it's a queer bit o writtin...

This is marvellous. Moving, sensitive but not at all slushy or saccharin. It is tender, haunting, and left me feeling quite emotionally fragile after finish it. Ah, Seamus Deane
I'm not sure how this book got into my personal library. But there it was, and I felt the need to read it, as I feel about all the books on my shelves. It was ok, but I can definitely tell that this was not something I would have picked out for myself.

A young boy grows up in Ireland. At this time there is much talk about informers and war and other things that are a family secret. A secret he is determined to figure out although it will take him years and he'll only get it in snippets. With a mo
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Joyce has Stephen Daedalus say that "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," and the narrator of Seamus Deane's novel could just as well say the same. Politics, religion, and family secrets are the threads that entwine to create this Irish history, one that sounds like a memoir but evidently is not. The story is told in short bursts, snapshots of family history that piece together at the end to tell a coherent but somewhat tragic tale. All of which might make for a glum and depr ...more
Tina Tamman
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
This is a difficult book to like. I have a lot of sympathy for Ireland, like most Irish writing, but I rebel at the structure of this particular novel. For a long time I wasn't even sure it was a novel at all; it seemed more like a memoir, episodic in style. And at one point I found it quite so boring that I decided to go and clean the bathroom instead. However, it's our next read in the book club, so I had to press on. And now I've read it all. Admittedly, it did get more interesting towards th ...more
Oscar Despard
Apr 04, 2017 rated it liked it
This coming of age story, set in Northern Ireland, narrates the tragic tale of a family torn apart by secrets from the past. The novel skillfully displays the bitterly divided society of Derry, and the destructive effects of this division on the family involved. It accompanies this with several highly enjoyable passages: a Byzantine maths lesson endured by the protagonist was extremely funny. However, as a whole, this book did not interest or excite me in between these enjoyable moments; the lan ...more
Aug 18, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who is feeling nostalgic.
I'd been working on a book based in Ireland where the protagonists were two brothers so this looked liked the perfect reference material for me. I think my memory of the book has suffered because I was reading the book with a purpose in mind rather than enjoying it in its own right. The political edge to the book annoyed me because politics in general annoys me but in order to be accurate it needed to be there.

When I first picked it up to add to my bookshelf I thought I'd remembered nothing abou
Sharon Huether
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
Growing up in Ireland, life was centered around the church (Catholic Church) .
The Priests were always trying to help the young people be moral and honest. The children would have to memorize passages from Catholic books to get the point of morality into their brains.
Secrets and rumors were everywhere with families and friends. The Young people always wanted more information to solve all the rumors.
Everyone was known to all the people in the small town. Boys couldn't get by with much.
Apr 18, 2012 rated it liked it
This was probably more 2.5 stars, but I rounded up because of the writing. I thought the writing was fantastic, the story OK yet bleak, but the narrator wouldn't let this one family issue go and it started to wear on me. ...more
Beautifully lyrical episodes from Irish history. A family mystery. Deception. Family drama. Dark. The episodes seemed haphazard. Some of them seemed completely unnecessary.
Loretto Leary
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although I would give this book five stars for the writing style, elegant and carefully honed, I think I’d award it four stars for the story itself. The finer nuances of the novel will be lost on broader audiences who seem to devour crap like Fifty Shades of Gray and spur tales like this because the readers lack the patience to allow the story to reveal itself. The slow reveal is a literary device manipulated by Deane with skill here.

Irish people with a love of the past and those (any nationalit
Mar 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved everything about Reading in the Dark! I won't write too much as I cannot spoil this read for anyone. You must discover its secrets as our unnamed boy learns them. Told in the first person, each chapter is a vignette of an Irish Catholic boy's life, (3rd oldest of 7 children), from February 1945 until July 1971. Our boy is desperately trying to understand the aforementioned mystery running throughout the novel. A mystery contained in the family feuds, secrets, and gossip of every small to ...more
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Poet, critic, novelist, and educator. Professor of Irish studies at Notre Dame University in Indiana USA. Educated at Queen's College, Belfast, and Pembroke College, Cambridge University, England. ...more

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