Light of the Diddicoy
A Novel by Eamon Loingsigh
Published by Three Rooms Press Trade Paperbacks
Release Date: March 18, 2014 - $15.95
If you don’t like poetry – if you read only with your eyes, if you can’t at the same time hear the rhythm and music of English as it is spoken by an Irishman with poetry as much a part of his life as is breathing or the occasional drink, if you don’t resonate with the sound as well as the meaning, - I’m not sure this is the book for you.
For like many great works of Irish literature, whether fiction or history of poetry (and just for the record, this is listed as a work of fiction, but it is rich in history and richer in poetry), the telling of the story is as much in the language as in the plot, in the rhythm as in the characters. In places, it harkens back to a time when books were read aloud. If there was company, reading aloud let the story be shared in an age before television , iPods, computers. But even when alone, people read books aloud for the pleasure of hearing the words, and it helped the reader not skim through some sections. I read for the blind, and in reading a book aloud, I develop a whole deeper appreciation for and understanding of the author. I suspect this may be a book that should be read aloud.
It’s a novel, and I am going to resist telling you the plot, because it emerges so gradually from the characters that I’d be doing the book a disservice by trying to lay it out. The characters are beautifully drawn, and one of the great charms of the works is that there is extraordinary feeling in everything he writes, this Eamon Loingsigh. Not in the way you may think, however. Every scene has the underlying feeling of the participants as a foundation for the action. In a scene where four Italian dockworkers are beaten because they wouldn’t pay the 10% to the dock boss (largely because they didn’t understand the custom), we “hear” their inner feelings, their confusion and fear and anger and determination to stand up for themselves no matter how badly they are outnumbered. At the same time, we feel the impatience of the workers waiting in line behind them. We see the violence, but we hear through the inner voices the feelings of the participants.
Descriptions, everywhere descriptions, and you’re not conscious of them, for they flow in and out of the plots like scenery in a film. His creation of the tenements is mildly suggestive of Dickens, but without the remove, the self-conscious moralizing. If there is a lesson to be drawn, the reader must draw it, it’s not part of the author’s portfolio. As far as he is concerned, it’s what it is, and anything else is up to the reader. And what it is is the life of the New York waterfront in the early years of the 20th century, with supporting flashbacks to earlier times both her and in Ireland. The life and struggles and politics of Ireland are very much a part of what creates and moves the society of the waterfront, “Irishtown” as it was once known, and it helps define and make clear the difference between being an “immigrant” and being truly an “Irish-American,” carving out a new and separate sense of how to integrate and be integrated into the “American experience.”
It’s been a long time since I have read a book so filled with details so seamlessly interwoven with the story. From the dress of the characters to the smells of the streets and the sounds of an evening, the reader gets a personal and intimate experience of life in the tenements and on the streets. Although the “history” is not crammed down your throat, it’s absolutely correct, both the movements and the big events, but also the more subtle elements, like the emphasis on how little structure there was in this age and this place. “Law” was whatever the people decided it was, and going to the authorities for anything was as foreign a concept as bathing every day.
As I found myself nearing the end of the book, I had the sense of not wanting it to end. And again (no spoiler alert here), while not wanting to disclose what you should experience for yourself, I found the end of the book absolutely right, completely perfect and surprisingly satisfying. It ended as it had to end, and after a while to let the story settle, I know I will go back and read it again. It is the kind of book you will want to read more than once. Who knows, this time I might actually read it out loud.