Monday, January 18, 2010

The Pineapple Tart

A slight departure here from my usual form for blog posts, but I'm very excited today. I discovered this morning that one of my favourite authors, Anne Dunlop, has a blog AND she has a new book coming out in March! You can read her blog here.

I first discovered Anne Dunlop when I was a teenager. My mum had picked up a copy of her first book The Pineapple Tart from my home town's only bookshop (it's been closed for a good many years and is now a paint shop, which makes me sad) I don't quite know what possessed my mum to buy the book, at the time she was mainly interested in reading books that were set in Liverpool during the Second World War. There are a surprising amount of these! Anyway, she passed The Pineapple Tart on to me and I fell in love.

The Pineapple Tart tells the story of the man-mad Helen Gordon and her four sisters (Laura, Daisy, Sarah and Jennifer) and their eccentric family. I liked it because it was at once familar and exotic. It was familar in that Anne Dunlop comes from Castledawson and Helen and her sisters come from the countryside near Magherafelt - local places for this Tyrone girl. Helen's large and eccentric family reminded me of my own, and Helen's desire to experience something new mirrored my vauge and unspecified teenage yearnings. It was exotic because Helen was a Protestant, and she was beautiful, and she was heading off to university. The book follows Helen's late school days and her university career, studying Agricultural Science at University College Dublin. I read and reread my copy until it fell apart, and the same for the book's sequels A Soft Touch and The Dolly Holiday.

Part of the reason for my enduring fondness for these books is the fact that they are set in rural Northern Ireland, and they depict the eccentricities of country life in a funny and affectionate way. I identified with and admired Helen, who is warm and funny but intelligent and independent. I loved her sisters as well. Laura doesn't care at all about what people think, and falls in love with a man who lives in a caravan, farms chickens and races stock cars (incidentally, Laura's boyfriend's mother has one of the best ever names for a fictional character - Slack Alice)Daisy has her heart broken by The Muesli Prince at university and is dippy and artistic, but she can still build a sheep dip. Sarah is an uptight perfectionist who decides not to marry the perfect man because 'I've unblocked drains with more enjoyable poking and prodding' and Jennifer is...well, Jennifer is Jennifer. She gets drunk on her wedding day and gives birth to her first child on the kitchen table of a decaying mansion in the wilds of Kerry. The novels, in their own light and frothy way, look at how easy it is to fall in love with the wrong person. Mostly their appeal lies in the way that Anne Dunlop shows five young women growing up and doing things in their own way. I am so excited about reading the next installment of the Gordons' story The Revenge of Lady Muck when it is published in March.