Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Dazzling Truth

  The Dazzling Truth
Author:  Helen Cullen
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1525815822 / 978-1525815829

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was Christmas Eve."

Favorite Quote:  "Consider this - when you ask a child to draw you a picture, or tell you a story, they never refuse because they 'aren't creative.' We just learn as we get older whether we're allowed to call ourselves the anymore because we're trained only to invest time in what we are 'good at.' And its a tragedy - when we can't create purely for the joy it brings us. Don't be afraid to play, Fionn. It's good for the soul."

***** Blog Tour *****


Tell all the truth but tell it slant
by Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

This poem is the inspiration for the title of this book set in a small village in Ireland. The heart of this book is about what the truth of the Moone family is and even more so what their individual truths are. To give a hint of it, a theme that finds its way into the book is the Japanese art of kintsugi or kintsukuroi. This art form takes broken pottery and repairs the breaks with gold, silver, platinum lacquer. Rather than hiding the breaks and the flaws, it celebrates them and acknowledges that the breaks are the beauty of the piece. What a lovely idea for art and what an even more beautiful concept for life.

The book begins with a tragedy for the Moone family, who lives on the small island of Inis Óg off the Irish mainland. The tragedy comes on Christmas Eve and on the birthday of the eldest Moone daughter. The family is Murdagh, Maeve, and their four children with the youngest at sixteen.

Two-thirds of the book then goes back through Murdagh and Maeve's history and the events - big and small - that lead up to the tragedy. This is a love story intensely written. It is also a story of when love alone is not enough to "save" someone. It is a story of the struggle with mental illness. It is the struggle of the one who suffers and the impact on family, friends, and community. The journey of this family is poignant and compelling.

The story winds its way back to the beginning event. The rest of the book is about the path forward for this family. At this point, the book changes directions completely. It's almost as if I read two completely different books. From an intensely personal story of a family in a remote setting, this book goes to the same family and its stance in Ireland's legal and political battle on a social issue. Stating the issue would be a total spoiler!

Given the setting, I can see the need to document history. That, in and of itself, would make an entire book. However, in this case, it really does lead to my feeling that this is two books in one - the first two thirds about a family struggling with mental illness and the last third about capturing a momentous turn in recent Irish history. The connection between the is drawn, but it is tenuous at best. My hesitation is not about the two individual pieces of the book. Both are stories that can stand on their own. It is just that they do not feel like they belong in the same book. I acknowledge the need to mark history, but I wish the book has stayed with the first two thirds and the intensity of that journey. 

About the Author

HELEN CULLEN wrote her debut novel, The Lost Letters of William Woolf, while completing the Guardian/UEA novel writing program. She holds an MA in Theatre Studies from University College Dublin and is currently studying further at Brunel. Prior to writing full-time, Helen worked in journalism, broadcasting and most recently as a creative events and engagement specialist. Helen is Irish and currently lives in London.

About the Book

Poised to celebrate Christmas Eve on a beautifully scenic island off the coast of Ireland, the Moone family’s holiday is instead marred by tragedy. So begins Helen Cullen’s stirring family saga, THE DAZZLING TRUTH (Graydon House; August 18, 2020; $17.99 USD). Maeve and Murtagh Moone’s love story began in 1978, at Trinity College. As an aspiring actress and potter respectively, the two creative spirits were drawn to each other in an intense and lasting way, able to withstand almost anything, even Maeve’s bouts of crippling depression and anxiety. For a short time, anyway.

Marriage and children are the next chapters in the Moone family story, but Maeve struggles to reconcile her old life with that of the wife and mother she is supposed to be. Until one heartbreaking Christmas Eve in 2005 changes everything. Now each member of the Moone family must learn to confront the past on their own, until one dazzling truth brings them back together towards a future that none of them could have predicted. Except perhaps Maeve herself.

Q&A with Helen Cullen

1. How did you get the idea for THE DAZZLING TRUTH?
The Dazzling Truth was initially inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi – the practise of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The breakage, and the repair, remains visible to show the history of an object rather than something to be disguised, and so the pots become even more beautiful than before they were broken.

As any family spans decades, both hairline fractures and critical breaks, can damage its foundations. Some tragedies seem insurmountable; we can’t go on, and yet we do. Some cracks feel irreparable, but then often reveal themselves to be the gap we squeeze through so that we can find a way to keep moving.

The Moone family of the new book are no exception and as their narrative revealed itself to me, I became more and more convinced of how powerful it can be to confront the past, to stop burying inconvenient, uncomfortable or hurtful truths. Telling the story of Maeve, an actor from Brooklyn who arrived in Dublin in the 70s, her husband, Murtagh, and their four children, Nollaig, Mossy, Dillon and Sive, I was inspired by the power of the truth – how it can give your legs the power to keep walking, your heart to keep beating. And the setting for their story is very special to me - their lives on a fictional island on the west coast of Ireland was inspired by my own time spent on the Aran Islands in Ireland and in particular on Inis Oírr.

2. Where did the title come from?
It comes from an Emily Dickison poem, Tell all the truth but tell it slant. The theme of personal truth is a very important one in the novel - and in particular, how personal truths may not always align with what can be considered universally accepted truths. Sometimes it is only with acceptance of that that we can find peace. And sometimes that truth or awareness needs to creep up on us slowly as it would be too blinding if confronted too quickly or head on. My working title as I was writing the book had been Kintsugi as mentioned above but I wanted the title to reference the truth that is at the heart of the novel. I had spent some time thinking of it when one day the Emily Dickinson line just came me as I was sitting on the London tube. In the UK and Irish edition, the title is the full quote, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually, but in America we opted for The Dazzling Truth.

3. Who was your favorite character to write and why?
I always really enjoyed spending time with Murtagh Moone, the father of the family, as he was the first character that came to me out of the ether and where the story began for me. He isn’t based on my own father at all but his great love for his children definitely is a mirror of how devoted my own father is to his six children and so I have a huge spot for him.

4. Which character do you relate to most and why?
I think it’s true to say that I relate to all of the characters in different ways– if I didn’t I’m not sure I would be able to write them with any empathy or authority.

5. How important is music to your writing process and to the novel itself?
It’s incredibly important to me. Every day, before I begin to write, I choose a song to listen to that encapsulates for me the energy or the feeling of the scene I want to work on. Sinking into the music, the physical world around me slips away, and I am able to cross the bridge from reality to the wonderland of the imagination. I also love working out the musical tastes of all the characters and curating a soundtrack for the novel as I’m writing – there is so much music scattered throughout. The song, Moon River, is definitely the theme song for The Dazzling Truth and I listened to it on vinyl record a lot while writing the book.

6. Do you find it easier or harder to write character and dialogue for the opposite sex?
The gender of the character doesn’t really affect my approach in that way – as individual characters some just tend to evolve more easily than others for lots of different reasons.

7. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m a pantser. I would really struggle to plot out a novel in advance and think if I did I would get bored with following the plan. I find the most exciting and engaging writing I do is usually a result of the narrative taking a surprising turn. At the beginning I tend to know in a big picture way what the story loosely is and what the closing image is that I’m working towards – everything else is a mystery until I discover it on the page.

8. What is your writing Kryptonite?
Anxiety – if I’m anxious about anything that is happening in the real world I find it really difficult to disconnect and focus on the writing. It would be amazing if I could use the fictional world as an escape pod but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that for me.

9. Where is your favorite place to write?
I’ve learned not to become too superstitious or precious about where I can write as those things just become excuses for me not to get work done in the end but I do love escaping on writing retreats where the only thing I have to focus on is whatever book I’m writing. I’ve been to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig in Ireland a few times and absolutely love it there – despite the fact that I’m scared out of my wits by the resident ghost Miss Worby.

10. What book have you read recently that you loved?
There are so many wonderful books coming out of Ireland at the moment that it feels like a glorious age of literature. One of my all-time favourite writers and literary heroines, Anne Enright, published a new book this year called Actress which is unsurprisingly phenomenal. I recommend it whole-heartedly but also every single book the genius has written.

The book's title comes from a line from Emily Dickinson, "The truth must dazzle gradually." What appealed to you about that quote, and how was the title chosen?

11. What are you working on next?
I’m working on what will hopefully be my third novel and preparing a commence a PhD in October at the University of East Anglia.

12. What was the first book to make you cry?
I don’t remember the first book that made me cry but the last one was probably My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout which I loved.

13. What are you reading?
I’m always reading multiple things at the same time. Recently I’ve started Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell and Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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