In this classic Cronin novel, the narrator looks back on his boyhood and adolescence in a small Scottish town in the early 1900s. Orphaned at 8, Robert Shannon is sent back from Dublin to live with his mother’s family, Papa, Mama and two adult children. Papa’s over-riding characteristic is parsimony, from which the whole family suffers! Then there is Grandpa, who lives with them; he is a local “character”, with an eye for the ladies and fondness for the drink. Feckless and full of tall stories, he takes young Robert under his wing. Enter Grandma, back from her visiting - strictly religious, but tender-hearted. Young Robert soon becomes a pawn between the two. However, they all manage, and Robert settles at school and at home.
Then he is approached by the local priest, and, supported by Grandpa, becomes a passionate Catholic. He is passionate about many things - nature & science, and the unattainable Alison, with whom he can never be more than friends.
The narrative fast-forwards to his adolescence. Robert is doing very well at school, and longs to go to University to study science or Medicine. However, there is definitely no money in the home for such indulgences. Following setbacks and tragedy, Robert loses his faith altogether, and becomes embittered and lonely. When he is old enough, he is sent out to work, a situation in which he feels like a fish out of water. Will he ever escape and get to university?
Returning to Cronin after several decades, I’d forgotten how well he writes. His clear, lyrical narrative holds you from the very first page. You find yourself rooting for Robert the whole way through. The narrator views his younger self with a kindly eye, and there are some very funny moments in the book.
The characters are so well-drawn: the family at “Lomond View”, teachers good & bad, the local clergy, the ice-cream Antonellis and their beloved monkey, Robert’s close friend Gavin... all are living, breathing persons. It is superb.
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