Review of 'This Side of Brightness'

This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann is reviewed by members of Coolock reading group:

Review 1: From the beginning of the book I found myself totally interested in the characters Tree frog and Clarence Walker. I was gripped by the description of the under ground where Treefrog lived and amazed that people actually survived in these sub-human conditions. Then there was Clarence and co. I could feel myself working with them as they overcame the terrible conditions in the tunnel under the river.

Loving relationships intertwine to make this a remarkable book.

Review 2: "Monarch of all he surveys" Clarence Nathan rules the high beams over New York. However, his family history and tragedies are to send him on a downward spiral. Clarence is full of guilt. Then his wife and daughter leave him.

He ends up living in the tunnels under New York with an assortment of odd characters. His behaviour is weird. If he uses one hand he must use the other. He spends his time making maps with straight lives. He must balance on a beam to get to his hovel. Right foot, left foot. Balance is his inheritance.

Treefrog or Clarence? (it takes a while to figure this out) harbours a dark secret. He makes love to Angela an inhabitant of the tunnel. To her he admits he had abused his daughter. This admission sets Treefrog free. He tears his hovel apart, burns his maps. He can finally walk on crooked lines.

It's a wonderful story, beautifully written. I read it twice, as it was difficult to piece together at first. It goes back in time and jumps forward.

Clarence has finally rid himself of Treefrog or has he?

Review 3: We first meet Nathan Walker in 1916. He is nineteen years old. Along with his companions Con O'Leary, Rhubarb Vanucci and Sean Power they were part of a team of hog men who were building the tunnels under the East River of New York.

It is the depth of a New York winter and you can almost feel the cold. In fact Colum McCann's description of these men and the conditions they endured for survival is beautifully written and is brought to life so terribly when a blow-out in one of the tunnel results in death. This tragedy brings repercussions in Nathan's life, which will affect future generations.

I must confess that although I enjoyed this book, I did find it a little confusing in parts. Particularly regarding a tunnel dweller called Treefrog. While once again I found Colum McCann's prose so descriptive of the life of these tunnel dwellers for a while I wondered how Treefrog fitted into the story. However, when I discovered his identity and his reasons for living as he did, it was for me, a real twist in the tail. Pick it up. Read it. You will enjoy.

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