Thursday, July 29, 2010
Books - Book Review - The Outside Boy - Jeanine Cummins
I received this novel as a prize from BookGirl.
I knew of Travellers from one of my favorite TV shows. Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Season 2, Episode 21, "Graansha" was about a murder of a probation officer who belongs to a family of Irish Travellers.
Christy (a boy) lives in 1959 Ireland. He is a Pavee or a Traveller, the Irish version of gypsies but without the Roma bloodline. Despite not going to school most of the time, his little group decides to spend several months in a town, so Christy and his cousin, Martin, can get confirmed. They both attend a Catholic school, where they are placed in a lower grade to make up the lost schooling.
Christy is realizing that their way of life is slowly coming to an end. There is less work in tinkering (fixing pots), fortune telling, begging, or even stealing. The times are changing and some authorities run them off former camping sites.
However, in death, the travellers go back to certain spots. Christy's grandfather died, and the Travellers went to a town where his great and great-great grandparents were also buried. Christy muses, "I never fancied towns, the buttoned-up, closed-in feeling of them, they way houses crowded theirselves onto the narrow streets, pressed their shadows forcefully on passersby. I preferred the open tober, the road, out the country, where all the rain-fed colors would be washed fresh and green."
Some Travellers didn't bother at all to learn to read, because they didn't have a need for it. But, they had other ways to remember events. "..the beady pocket waslikea mpa ofher memory. Every Pavee woman had one: a long, black pocket that tied 'round her waist and hung to the side of her apron, where she kept her personal artifacts. But really it was the outside of the pocket wher the memories was stored, because them pockets was decorated all with bright-colored stitching, and then, pinned and sewed in among the stitching, there'd be all the collections of hold relics and medals, all the beads and buttons and brooches the women swapped along the tober."
This novel is not all all idealistic. There are instances of prejudice against the Pavee. Camping outside in the fall and winter was not the most pleasant experience; neither was living with no running water and bathing in a cold pond! But, Christy manages to find a kind bookseller, who helps him solve a mystery. I like how the mystery is solved, pre-Internet era.
Cummins provides a reading list, if you want to find out more about the Pavee.
The only quibble that I have (and it proves my observation that publishers are not editing as much as they should) is that a newspaper photo identifies an unmarried lady as Ms, which didn't come into common use until the 1970s. The caption should have read Miss.
The novel presents a world that is probably not as common as before. Christy's observations of tober life and town life are enlightening. I really enjoyed this present.
Labels: Jeanine Cummins