The Queen of Dirt Island

In The Queen of Dirt Island, a quietly propulsive novel, each vignette-like chapter draws in readers with an opening statement, such as "She was born" and "Nana came around." This sixth novel from Irish author Donal Ryan (All We Shall Know; The Spinning Heart) follows the Aylward women, "safe inside their small house, swathed and cosseted in love," and the ways in which they meet life's challenges with mutual support.

The novel opens as three-day-old Saoirse Aylward's father dies in a car crash near the Tipperary estate where the Aylwards had "farmed the land and lived their lives." Saoirse and her mother, Eileen, share their bungalow; Eileen's mother in-law, Nana, lives down the road. The friendship of these women serves as Saoirse's security during her childhood; their laughter meant "the world would find again its perfect peace." Years bring strife: Nana's other son is convicted of gunrunning; Eileen's family shuns her; and Saoirse gets pregnant. Nana addresses their shock: "as cross as your mother is or was or as regretful as you might be it's all the one now for good and for glory." Nana moves in when baby Pearl arrives, forming a four-generation family of Aylward women. Defying the "meanness and sorrow of the world," their strength generates hopefulness and joy. Years later, as Nana is dying, Ryan writes that time "will wind its own sweet way" and beautifully concludes the novel as it began, with Saoirse and Eileen in the bungalow. The two have launched Pearl, grown to be "beautiful inside and out," into the world; she is grounded in love and secure that "things would play out as they would." --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

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