South of the Border
Ireland 1942. Matt Duggan, fresh out of college, starts his first post as a teacher at the boys’ school in the small town of Rathisland in the Irish Midlands. He lodges with a genteel widow, Mrs Sheridan, and is adept at learning first lessons in independence, loyalty, and politics as an adult. Matt starts a love affair with Madelene Coll, a girl from London staying with her relatives, ostensibly to escape the war. The consequences of this relationship reverberate down the years. The novel, like so many Irish tales, is about memory and the legacy of the past, about deception and the histories and interpretations that are available. But Ryan also takes a rational and hard look at the Second World War and Ireland—the highly ambiguous and paradoxical views held about the war and the role of Ireland and its perceived erstwhile oppressor, England. It is refreshingly clear of some of the worst aspects of naïve Irish romanticism and is an honest appraisal, narrated in a clear, limpid prose. Not a complex or difficult book to read, but thought provoking and intelligent nevertheless.