Critical Writings -> Academic Journals -> Newpaper Articles & Reviews> Books

Articles and Reviews: BOOKS


By Claire Kilroy

This sophomore effort from Claire Kilroy is in the same genre as her much-lauded debut, All Summer, that of the literary thriller. It is a less-travelled by-road of contemporary writerly production she seems to be making her own.
The plot – and this is nothing if not a well-plotted story – concerns a young Irish concert violinist living and working in New York, Eva Tyne, with a background perhaps not unlike that of the author: hill of Howth born and bred, privileged, well-connected. Eva collapses after her solo debut and is rushed to hospital, with what subsequently transpires to have been a miscarriage. Still dazed after the incident, she goes off the rails and on a bit of a tear. Leaving her steady boyfriend, Czech photographer Krystof, she takes up with a mysterious young man she meets in a hotel bar, Peruvian investment banker Daniel. In the course of a bar-hopping night with best friend Valentina, she encounters Russian émigré Alexander – well, she thinks he’s Russian, although his provenance turns out to be as dubious as the Stradivarius violin he offers to sell her at the knock-down price of $650,000, roughly half its market value.
After playing the violin in a drunkenly bedraggled state in the middle of the night in Alexander’s less than salubrious Brooklyn apartment, and deciding that while it may not actually be a Strad, it is certainly a very beautiful instrument, Eva becomes obsessed with raising the cash to acquire it, an undertaking she must fulfil in one week. Using a variety of sources of finance – her inheritance from her father, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances seven years ago when she was sixteen, and has just recently been declared legally deceased; revenue from the sale of her current violin; an investment loan from Daniel; – she succeeds in getting her hands on the marvellous machine, which she christens the Magdalena, she is sure will be the making of her. But, needless to say, her troubles have only just begun…





This novel is very good on conveying the sense of money as an almost abstract, quasi-metaphysical concept which nonetheless has remorselessly real and practical implications on peoples’ lives, and the horizons within which they are allowed to live them, the expectations they are allowed, or allow themselves, to have. Eva wants to buy a violin for much more than most people spend on their home. But she hardly thinks twice about doing so, partially perhaps because of the background she comes from. Her father, after all, was pictured on a yacht with the Taoiseach before he vanished, and ‘could’ve had an offshore account in a false name’ since ‘Everyone else did on the hill.’
Kilroy is also very good on doing minor characters. Estelle, the old woman who lives across from Eva and Krystof’s erstwhile apartment, Patrice, who manages the launderette downstairs from Daniel’s, even big, burly Alexander himself, are all brought vividly to life in a series of telling ticks. Eva’s dependence on an inhaler, being asthmatic, is also a nice detail, well used, and her references to ambient trance grooves as ‘…hollow…empty and cynical…the opposite of music’ certainly served to get me on her side.
However, as so often occurs with painstakingly plotted thrillers, the psychological depth of the central characters remains embarrassingly thin. Daniel, Krystof, Valentina, all remain ciphers on the periphery of Eva’s self-obsession and near-paranoiac jealousy, with little in the way of motivations of their own. Eva herself is, of course, wilful and manipulative, but has only a sole moment of self-conscious insight, strikingly enough in relation to her father’s shady business dealings: ‘If he was anywhere near as crooked as his only child, it would have been no bother to him. Lying, cheating, dissembling, just to get what you want. I didn’t lick it off the stones.’ True, her father’s abrupt leave-taking, and her latterly revealed miscarriage, are offered as reasons for her fugue state, but somehow neither managed to convince this reader. There again, maybe that’s because I’m a mere man. But, given her outrageously selfish behaviour, and despite her undoubted talent, while we might kind of like her, would we want to get to know her? It is doubtful if many men would want to put up with her as a girlfriend, and more doubtful still that ‘she’s worth it’.
Finally, while this is a tautly constructed thriller, there are still a few red herrings thrown around and loose ends left hanging. The supposedly significant looks given Eva by an aged Hungarian Maestro in Cologne, and his subsequent death, never amount to anything in the context of the Magdalena, and we also never find out what actually happened to her father. But life can be similarly free of ‘closure’ too, sometimes.
So, this is a pacy, compelling, well-written concoction. Kilroy knows the moves and can pull the strings to keep an audience on tenterhooks. It will certainly keep you turning the pages deep into the night, just to find out how the story resolves itself. But, rather like a one night stand, while the adrenaline rush is exciting while it is happening, you might just feel a little bit cheated on the morning after, depending on what expectations, if any, were raised (or you thought were raised) while it was going on.

First published in The Sunday Independent













Critical Writings
Travel Writings