Books, Non-Fiction

The Speckled People: Memoirs of a Half Irish Childhood

5 December 2005

image Don Quixote was too heavy a book to haul for a third time across the Atlantic. The taxi already waiting, I quickly grabbed Hugo Hamilton’s childhood autobiography from my bookshelf where it was sitting for the last two years after having received a very good review in one of my favorite news outlets. Having finished the book, it is fair to assume that the reviewer either had special connections to post-World War II Ireland or Germany. These strong emotional ties suspended all critical faculties. The rave review was unwarranted because The Speckled People does not come close to world literature. The book has a few good passages. But unlike the truly pioneering Don Quixote The Speckled People will not withstand the test of time despite having good material to work with.  For one, the narrative perspective it adopts does not work.

One of the charms of an autobiography is that we can later write about events in our childhood and see them differently as adutls. We can reinterpret the meaning of what happened to us when we knew so little about the world. Writing from the perspective of a three-year-old without the benefit of the adult mind’s commentary gets tiring really fast. Second and even more importantly, it never becomes clear what point the author is trying to make. I suspect the reason for the lack narrative focus is that the author’s mother is original teller of most of the stories that are related in the book. Unfortunately the mother is not longer around to fill large gaps in the familiy history and connect the dots into the coherent narrative.

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Peter

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