Reading in the Dark by Seamus Keane

Seamus Deane ( was brought up in Derry, Northern Ireland, as part of a Catholic Nationalist family.

Reading in the Dark (1996) is his first novel. It won the 1996 Guardian Fiction Prize and the 1996 South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature.

This is a novel, well imbued with solid personal memories, which is delivered in the form of snapshot recollections of life in Derry from the twenties to the Troubles. There is the uncle who in family legend had fled to Chicago who had in fact been executed, mistakenly, as an informer on the IRA by members of his own family; the real informer, who had been loved by the boy’s mother and had briefly married her sister, had escaped, tipped off by the police. Mother and father each know some of the story, and realize that knowing all of it will drive them apart; their life together is a long, loving grief.

All this is glimpsed by the narrator in hints and flashes, combined with hilarious surges of comic relief — a lecture on the facts of life by a well-meaning priest, an incomprehensible maths lesson at school, the brisk tirades of a local madman, a sly way of getting back at a hated policeman by way of the Bishop.

In Deane’s poetic hands, the language leaps and quivers, and the life he describes is a compelling blend of sadness and reality. Above all, perhaps, this is a book about growing up and facing truth. It is a treat not to be missed.

[Postscript – Seamus Deane died on 12 May 2021. An obituary can be read here Seamus Deane, leading Irish writer and critic, has died aged 81 – The Irish Times]

ISBN  978-0099744412

Seamus Deane

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