Nancy McKibben's Reviews > The Fields

The Fields by Kevin Maher
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really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed, literary-fiction
Recommended for: readers who like Irish novels, coming of age novels

The Fields
By Kevin Maher

Fourteen-year-old Jim is the youngest in the boisterous Finnegan family, and the only boy. The story is set in Dublin the l980s, and Jim introduces himself with a story about, Jack, a childhood pet.
Jack’s wheezing, from day one, got louder and louder, and by the end of the first week it had turned into full-on flu. The vet said . . . that Jack might actually die instead of getting better. This scared the girls no end. And that, combined with all the snotty green drippy stuff pouring from his eyes and nose, and the way he’d suddenly sneeze and blast it outwards and right into your face, made them run like mad whenever he appeared in the room. And it made Dad want to kill him even more.

I was the youngest, and I was the one who kept nagging Mam for a pet in the first place, so it was my job to be the cat-nurse. Which meant chasing Jack up the stairs with some cotton buds, wiping all the mucus away, and then bringing him into the bathroom and holding him over a hot bath so that he could breathe in the steam that was supposed to clear away all the hardened snot in his lungs that was causing the trouble in the first place. He hated this bit. And no matter how many times we did it, and no matter how many times I finished it up with a cuddle in a towel and treaty pieces of squashed sardine from my fingertips, he always thought that I was doing it for the hell of it, or because I was mental vicious, and was going to chuck him into the boiling bathwater for a laugh. He’d go scrapey crazy on my hands, driving big gashy cuts into my wrists, often drawing enough blood to make a lone red drip that would plip into the bath while he was taking his last few steamy panicky breaths. But it didn’t matter to me, because I was making him better again.
This passage gives a taste both of Jim’s rollicking language, which is half the fun of the book, and his character - persevering, perverse, soft-hearted. He deals with growing up, which includes his willing involvement with an older girl and his unwilling abuse from a rogue priest, with the best grace he can muster, as his parents are overwhelmed with their large and demanding family.

After finishing the novel, I realized that I had read about a lot of subjects that I don’t necessarily like to read about - at least not all crammed into the same book: abortion, child abuse, binge drinking, underage sex, bullying, depression. But somehow Jim’s disarming voice made it all readable.

The child molestation by the priest is a central and powerful part of the book, and Jim’s reaction to it - he hates it, but doesn’t tell anyone for an unbearably long time - was both heartrending and completely understandable, which I felt was an achievement on the author’s part. Maher makes us feel Jim’s essential helplessness in the face of the priest’s power as an authority figure, especially one totally supported by Jim’s unsuspecting parents.

The ending is unexpected and “a bit daft”, as Jim might say, but despite some of the dark subject matter, I enjoyed spending time with Jim, whose buoyant and optimistic nature ultimately offers hope in even the worst situations.

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Reading Progress

November 9, 2013 – Started Reading
November 10, 2013 – Finished Reading
November 13, 2013 – Shelved
November 13, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed
November 13, 2013 – Shelved as: literary-fiction

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