Official Review: Anna by Colm Herron

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Miriam Molina
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Official Review: Anna by Colm Herron

Post by Miriam Molina » 14 Sep 2019, 10:13

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Anna" by Colm Herron.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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Robert Browning is nursing painful wounds and feels sore all over. He got whacked on the head by baton-charging Royal Ulster Constabulary forces during the Derry civil rights march on October 5. It is 1968, just before the Mexico Olympics. Northern Ireland will share the international headlines with the games as the violent dispersal of the Derry march signaled the start of the Troubles.

(The Troubles were three decades of conflict between the nationalists who wanted a united Ireland and the loyalists who desired to stay under British rule. Northern Ireland, consisting of six of the nine counties in the province of Ulster, is part of the United Kingdom to this day. The Republic of Ireland occupies the rest of the island of Ireland.)

As the loyalists are generally Protestants and the nationalists are mostly Catholics, the conflict in Northern Ireland has a religious flavor: The Catholics and other sectors are experiencing discrimination. Robert is not overly concerned about political and national issues; he barely knows them. He is a teacher at St. Ignatius of Loyola, devoutly Catholic (at least, he thinks so), and still a virgin at 28. So why did he join the march? Well, Anna inveigled him. She is mesmerizing. He wants to capture her heart (her body will naturally follow), and he would do anything just to be with her. However, the beautiful Anna is not just an activist. She is also an expert in sexual matters, including unholy BDSM.

Will Robert follow his heart, even as his Catholic conscience perennially bothers him with visions of his soul burning in hell?

Anna by Derry-born Colm Herron is a romance novel, but it contains so much more than love scenes. Its myriad characters paint the picture of those turbulent times in Derry, Northern Ireland. We march with the protesters, defiant and courageous. We join the heated debates in various social gatherings like a wake, soirees in bars, and other meetings, formal or otherwise. We hear the chastising voices of the Catholic clergy. We eavesdrop on Robert’s confessions and endure his penance with him.

I knew close to nothing about the situation on the island. I had to get myself acquainted with the island’s history, enough to appreciate Herron’s story.

Herron mimics the writing style of James Joyce, one of the literary greats from Dublin. Anna is narrated by Robert. Robert uses the “stream of consciousness” method and mixes the present with his thoughts, songs, poems, jokes, prayers, and asides. These are many times inserted without the benefit of quotation marks or other indicators. As I was not familiar with some of the songs and whatnots referred to, I was lost many times. It didn’t help that the 493-page story was not divided into chapters. I have never read any of Joyce’s works, but if such is his style, I can understand the critics who find his works difficult to read.

The Irish brogue is also ubiquitous in the book, and some Irish terms escaped me. A glossary would be most welcome. Apart from the challenging Irish English, I also had to contend with several run-on sentences, misspelled words, and missing punctuation, commas in particular.

All the reading difficulties aside, I had an enriching experience with the book. It added depth to my knowledge of the green (representing Catholic and nationalist) and orange (representing Protestant and loyalist) issues in Ireland. Robert’s contemplation of the truths behind his Catholic indoctrination made me mull over my own faith, which is always a good thing if you ask me. There were many laugh-out-loud moments in the book as Herron happily played with words. I was also effortlessly brought to the period with the songs and public figures of the time. Marchers were singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.” The Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protests in the US and similar conflicts in Mexico, France, and other places were shown as mirroring the volatile situation in Northern Ireland. Of course, as this is a romance novel at its core, love was portrayed as the powerful force that it is.

I believe that fans of James Joyce will relish this book. I likewise recommend it to those familiar with or intrigued by Irish culture and history. Romantics are especially invited to dive in. Readers have to brace themselves for the profanity and erotic stuff, though. They also have to wrestle with the author’s style.

After careful consideration, I gave the book 3 out of 4 stars, deducting just one star for the errors and the reading hurdles. My trip to Northern Ireland of the late sixties was taxing, but it was a fascinating and enlightening journey. It would be hard to forget Anna. As the Irish say, “This is a goodun.”

******
Anna
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Post by Wyland » 16 Sep 2019, 09:04

Heard abit about the civil war between the UK and Ireland. Looks like this could be a good book to get other viewpoints in prose form. Thanks for your interesting review.

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Post by AvidBibliophile » 16 Sep 2019, 14:44

Anna does sound like a mesmerizing character! The Irish terminology might throw me off a bit too, but the romance aspect of this story does sound intriguing. I have also read some chapter-less books before, and I will admit feeling it to be a strong hindrance in comprehension and smooth flow. Thanks for providing this review!

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Post by rumik » 16 Sep 2019, 14:47

Hah, I am a romantic and also interested in Irish culture as well. I love the stream of consciousness style for how much personality it can contain too, though I'd have the same issues as you when it comes to the Irish English. Thanks for the lovely review, I'll try checking this one out!

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Miriam Molina
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Post by Miriam Molina » 16 Sep 2019, 15:02

rumik wrote: ↑
16 Sep 2019, 14:47
Hah, I am a romantic and also interested in Irish culture as well. I love the stream of consciousness style for how much personality it can contain too, though I'd have the same issues as you when it comes to the Irish English. Thanks for the lovely review, I'll try checking this one out!
I won't say it's an easy read, but the troubles (pun not intended) are worth it. I hope Herron addresses the errors, though, so readers will have one less hurdle. That glossary would be priceless, too.

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Miriam Molina
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Post by Miriam Molina » 16 Sep 2019, 15:30

Wyland wrote: ↑
16 Sep 2019, 09:04
Heard abit about the civil war between the UK and Ireland. Looks like this could be a good book to get other viewpoints in prose form. Thanks for your interesting review.
The Protestants protested and still do to this day, LOL. Do tell me how you find Anna. And Robert.

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Post by Meg98 » 16 Sep 2019, 23:00

I like that this romance novel doesn't only include romance... it seems like it covers a lot of other interesting topics. I think I will check this one out. Thanks for this great review! Cheers:)
Oh love, never be afraid to fly :wink2:

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Miriam Molina
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Post by Miriam Molina » 17 Sep 2019, 05:27

Meg98 wrote: ↑
16 Sep 2019, 23:00
I like that this romance novel doesn't only include romance... it seems like it covers a lot of other interesting topics. I think I will check this one out. Thanks for this great review! Cheers:)
Thanks for considering the book. It's charmingly complicated.

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Miriam Molina
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Post by Miriam Molina » 17 Sep 2019, 05:34

AvidBibliophile wrote: ↑
16 Sep 2019, 14:44
Anna does sound like a mesmerizing character! The Irish terminology might throw me off a bit too, but the romance aspect of this story does sound intriguing. I have also read some chapter-less books before, and I will admit feeling it to be a strong hindrance in comprehension and smooth flow. Thanks for providing this review!
I believe the absence of chapters is a literary device a la James Joyce's Ulysses. A glossary won't cramp Herron' s style, though, so I hope he would add one.

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Post by Kathleen Wolfe » 17 Sep 2019, 22:17

I never really paid much attention to civil wars in different countries so this is a new read for me. The history does intrigue me but the romance might be a bit too much for me. I've never read a book without chapters before so I think I'll give this one a try (although I might have to close my eyes at some point) :lol:

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Post by Miriam Molina » 18 Sep 2019, 01:59

Kathleen Wolfe wrote: ↑
17 Sep 2019, 22:17
I never really paid much attention to civil wars in different countries so this is a new read for me. The history does intrigue me but the romance might be a bit too much for me. I've never read a book without chapters before so I think I'll give this one a try (although I might have to close my eyes at some point) :lol:
You know, it's funny but Herron's humor makes the love scenes light. And Robert's internal debates about Catholism are hilarious, as well. Saint Augustine and Kings David and Solomon (known for their debauchery) take up a lot of space in the story. The topics are serious, surely, but the handling makes them palatable and easy to digest. Just don't wolf(e) them down, LOL!

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Post by corinaelena » 18 Sep 2019, 03:28

Oh, this book seems too complicated and heavy for my own taste. I couldn't help but notice while reading your review the big discrepancy between the title and the cover, and the incredibly heavy content.

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Post by Miriam Molina » 18 Sep 2019, 06:10

The heavy topics are dealt with in a humorous way, so you don't get overwhelmed. But the story stays with you long after closing the book. Anna will make you ask questions, and some will be difficult to answer.

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Post by Miriam Molina » 18 Sep 2019, 06:28

corinaelena wrote: ↑
18 Sep 2019, 03:28
Oh, this book seems too complicated and heavy for my own taste. I couldn't help but notice while reading your review the big discrepancy between the title and the cover, and the incredibly heavy content.
It's indeed a challenge to read. I hope Herron can fix the fixable issues to lessen the troubles of the reader as he or she learns about the Troubles.

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Post by Everydayadventure15 » 20 Sep 2019, 19:17

Not sure that this would be a book to fit my tastes but I enjoyed your review. Thanks for detailing the key aspects of the book and sharing your recommendations!

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