by Kerri ní Dochartaigh
The Irish writer Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s debut work of memoir is a deeply moving account of a traumatic childhood in a Northern Ireland riven by sectarian violence—and the sanctuary she found in the natural world.
Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, at the height of The Troubles—to a Catholic mother and Protestant father. This uneasy status alone was enough to mark her family out for unwelcome attention from the start, and her powerful memoir Thin Places describes a traumatic childhood marked by violence and fear, and how these experiences imprinted themselves on her psyche.
At six, a soldier was shot dead in front of her. At eleven, her house was petrol-bombed. Later, as a teenager, a close friend would be suddenly and shockingly murdered. All events that, in and of themselves, might haunt a person for the rest of their life. “I carried the darkness around with me like a big black crow, for a really long time,” she has explained. But recently, she writes, she has slowly, surely struggled her way towards the light. This book is a record of her emotional metamorphosis.
Ní Dochartaigh has a singular voice. Her poetic, almost magical-realist prose is perhaps experienced to its best effect when read aloud (I recommend the audiobook version, read by the author), and her interweaving of personal revelation, nature writing and mythology will likely appeal to fans of Amy Liptrot and Olivia Laing.
Digging, as it does, into mental illness and suicidal ideation, it is not always an easy book to read, but ní Dochartaigh is—to her credit—unafraid to confront some of her own worst impulses, and to interrogate them. Her account of the troubled beginnings of her long-term partnership with a gentle, older man is painful in parts: having moved into his home quickly, Kerri then sinks into a period of profound emotional disturbance during which she is often irrational, even borderline abusive; she finds herself perpetuating the cycle of trauma that plagues so many Northern Irish families. But, with the help of her devoted ‘M’, she pulls back.
At the end of the book, having journeyed so far together, and through such darkness, you cannot help but feel proud of how far she has come. “There is a very particular type of wisdom that is born out of witnessing unimaginable cruelty,” ní Dochartaigh writes. And so there is. This book is the evidence.
Cal Flyn, Deputy editor
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