Author: Walter Macken
Editor’s rating: 4.5/5
Stephen O’Riordan is a boy growing up in the harsh, atmospheric landscape of Connemara. The novel explores his environment, ambitions, relationships, and passion for the girl who was to be his one great love. However, Stephen’s dreams extend beyond Connemara. A stark contrast to some of his peers, this goes on to test his determination, and his willingness to sacrifice. What ensues can sometimes be sublime, sometimes shocking and almost everything in between!
Walter Macken’s Connemara
Brooding, brutal, bloody, and beautiful. All these words could be used to describe life in Walter Macken’s ‘Quench the Moon’ set in Connemara (you can find out more about Connemara here), and perhaps none more so than in his 3rd novel, Quench the Moon.
Whilst this writer does not sit on many lists of top Irish authors, it is perhaps only because he has so much competition! Ireland has produced many fine writers (and still does) but I won’t presume to try and list them here – a quick search on the internet will prove my point!
Best known for his trilogy of Irish historical novels which started with ‘Seek the Fair Land’ published in 1959, ‘Quench the Moon’ was issued 11 years earlier and depicts life in this remote part of the West of Ireland just 25 years after independence.
The Plot of Quench the Moon
Ostensibly, this is the story of a young boy emerging into his adult self, shaped by his family, friends, and enemies, as well as his environment and experiences.
Stephen’s antagonists in this story create a significant tension and you sense their threat to Stephen’s very existence throughout the book. They can and do shape his future, as becomes apparent in the tragic denouement.
If viewed through the prism of opportunity available to many of us today, Stephen’s ambitions may seem unexceptional. But his environment did much to test his strength and determination and this book, I think, considers the cost of breaking free.
It might also serve as a sharp reminder that all is not equal in todays’ world and circumstance can still throw seemingly insurmountable obstacles into the paths of many, sometimes with great personal cost.
Reading between the lines of this book though, you can’t fail to draw comparisons between Stephen’s emergence from childhood and what was then Ireland’s recent history; the uprising, the fight for freedom, followed by independence with all the ambitions and imperfections that a newly liberated country unearths.
Was this novel, then, simply an allegorical narrative written to describe Ireland’s birthing pains? Whilst I believe the vision, pain, cruelty and suffering of that journey is certainly reflected by Macken in the lives of the characters in this novel, I’m confident he was still invested in the lives, emotions and traumas of the individuals themselves.
Drawn to some and repelled by others, the characters were so authentic and vivid, I felt I knew them. I became so involved in their hopes and ambitions, they have stayed with me, weeks after reaching the end of the book.
My Conclusion on Quench the Moon
I finished the book in less than a week (gone are the days when I would read all night with a torch under the blankets!) during which time I was taken on a rollercoaster of emotion, imagination, and learning. But during that time, his skilful prose proved to me that I was in the hands of a superb storyteller; an insightful writer who knew how to keep you turning the pages.
I loved this story, and other novels by this author are now firmly on my list. I will probably start with his trilogy, but I would love to hear from anyone who has read others. I could be persuaded to change my mind about which one to read next!
Who should read Walter Macken’s Quench the Moon?
If you enjoy novels that are beautifully written, authentic, sometimes stark and often raw then this book could be for you. It is romantic, dark, and quite devastating. A book that transports you to the remote wilderness of Connemara, peopled by characters who are colourful, kind, perceptive and cruel…
I was introduced to this author by my Irish mother-in-law, but you certainly don’t need to have Irish blood stirring in your veins for this book to resonate with you – it is far more universal than that, and the writer too good to be exclusive.
I’m not sure how widely known Walter Macken is with contemporary readers, but if he’s not, he should be! For any writer that knew their craft, there is no reason why their work shouldn’t be as enjoyable today as it always was. We have seen the resurgence of many 20th century authors, including Patrick Hamilton, another acute observer of humanity, and deservedly so.
So, if you are yet to read a Walter Macken novel, I can wholeheartedly suggest that you do, and ‘Quench the Moon’ is a great place to start – I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Please note that I have added a link below enabling you to purchase this book from Bookshop.Org, an organisation created for the sole purpose of promoting local bookshops.