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In Ordinary Time

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In ordinary time, really knocked me for six, The subtitle is a fragments of family history but a fractured family is where I come from too. McMahon tells the story of her own journey from Ireland to New York in the 90s part of that mass emigration looking for something better but then her subsequent alcohol dependency caused her to circle back to the familiarity of home in a foreign lane, for her echoing churches trying to grasp a sense of self amongst the chaos of addiction.

tracing her family history to the ancient saints of Ireland, thinking of the women who came before her, and what they endured under a state so interwoven with its own religiosity, there was little room for progress.

This book sent me into a spiral of my own, sat considering the one half of my DNA I hardly know. I too have Irish women who have come before me, although their names lie still on family trees I still have not seen. Only one I have met in my lifetime so far, nanny James, 5ft nothing, dripping in gold crosses, a coarse voice that never matched her tiny stature. Still, then, it wasn’t back home we convened, instead in her tiny West London flat decorated with the Virgin Mary, plenty of rosary beads to match, even her playing cards when she taught us gin rummy at the kitchen table, =Maborough light in hand, were decorated saintly figures. Days after finishing her work I feel rattled by this family story of hers as I try to untangle my own and now am left thinking all the people I still do not know

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"In Ordinary Time" by Carmel offers a poignant and introspective exploration of trauma, addiction, and personal growth. Through candid yet lyrical prose, Carmel McMahon shares her journey from leaving Ireland for New York at the age of twenty to confronting the demons of her past and present.

McMahon's narrative delves deep into the intricacies of trauma and its lasting effects on both individuals and societies. From the personal traumas of lost siblings and struggles with alcohol addiction to the broader social scars of Ireland's history, including the Famine and the Magdalene Laundries, McMahon draws connections between her own experiences and the collective trauma of her homeland.

What sets "In Ordinary Time" apart is McMahon's ability to intertwine personal narrative with a broader exploration of Ireland's cultural and historical landscape. Through her evocative storytelling, she illuminates the ways in which trauma reverberates through time and shapes individual lives, while also reflecting on the evolution of Irish society from the conservative 1970s to the present day.

While McMahon's prose is beautifully crafted and her insights profound, the narrative occasionally meanders, losing focus at times. Some readers may find the nonlinear structure of the memoir challenging to follow, as McMahon shifts between past and present, personal and historical.

Overall, "In Ordinary Time" is a thought-provoking and deeply moving memoir that offers valuable insights into the complexities of trauma and the journey toward healing. McMahon's ability to blend personal reflection with a broader exploration of history and culture makes this memoir a compelling and enlightening read.

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Beautiful prose. The author manages to interweb personal and national history of Ireland. I haven't ever come across a memoir this haunting and hopeful all at the same time. Can't wait to read more from the author.

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In Ordinary Time by Carmel Mc Mahon is a beautifully written novel that explores the complexities of family relationships and the challenges of living in a small rural community in Ireland. Set in the 1960s, the book follows the lives of the O'Connor family as they navigate the joys and sorrows of everyday life.

Mc Mahon's writing is evocative and lyrical, and she captures the nuances of Irish rural life with great sensitivity and detail. The characters are vividly drawn, each with their own struggles and secrets, and the interactions between them are both poignant and authentic.

What sets In Ordinary Time apart from other novels is its exploration of the role of women in Irish society during the 1960s. The book offers a nuanced and insightful look at the challenges faced by women in a patriarchal society, and the ways in which they navigate these challenges with courage, resilience, and grace.

Overall, In Ordinary Time is a deeply moving and beautifully crafted novel that offers a compelling portrait of a community and a family struggling to find their place in the world. It is a testament to the power of love, hope, and forgiveness, and a reminder of the importance of compassion and understanding in our relationships with others. Highly recommended.

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Irish-born Carmel McMahon travelled to New York City in 1993 when she was in her early twenties, hoping to gain a modelling contract and make something of herself. She ended up staying in New York and becoming an American citizen, but has recently returned to her homeland. Her book is a sometimes lyrical, quasi-mystical mix of memoir, literary snippets, Irish history and Celtic myth, served with a dose of postcolonial theory.

The first pages of the memoir signal the author’s preoccupation with trauma. I was almost immediately reminded of two other recent books: Canadian physician-author Gabor Maté’s <i><b>The Myth of Normal</i></b> and the Irish war correspondent Fergal Keane’s <i><b>The Madness.</i></b> Like Maté, McMahon is interested in intergenerational/inherited trauma, an emerging and still somewhat uncertain science. <spoiler>Maté is later directly mentioned for his belief that Western society itself causes mental illness and his view that a psychotic individual would be best cared for in a village in India. In fact, McMahon’s unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic brother actually ends up in India—not in some idealized hamlet but on the desperate streets of a big city and in a very bad state. Need I add that the experience was not healing?</spoiler> She refers to the work of psychiatrist/PTSD researcher Rachel Yehuda and that of Marianne Frisch, whom she calls a “scholar of memory studies”—a description that is slightly misleading. Frisch is, in fact, William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Professor in the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Her writing concerns “the transmission of memories of violence across generations.” A cursory online search suggests that Holocaust narratives are a focus of hers.

Like BBC journalist Fergal Keane’s, McMahon’s temperament is melancholic and her life, like his, was ruled by alcohol for many years. She mines her familial past and the cultural history of Ireland to understand her distress and the decisions she’s made. Unlike Keane, however, McMahon regards her history through the sometimes distorting lens of colonialism. To my mind this produces strained and overly simplistic interpretations. Take, for example, the life of the author’s paternal great-grandfather, Laurence Bradley, whose forbears left Ireland for Glasgow during the Irish Potato Famine—which McMahon refers to using the controversial label “the Famine-Genocide.” Bradley lost his 37-year-old wife to Bright’s Disease. Heartbroken and drinking heavily, he was unable to care for his four children, all under the age of ten. They ended up in the poorhouse. Bradley ultimately enlisted with the British army. A sapper in World War I, he was “blown to smithereens” in Flanders Fields in 1916. Later, his 25-year-old son, George, would travel to New York and vanish. No one knew what had become of him. According to the author, Laurence and George Bradley were “two bodies literally and figuratively erased by colonial history.” This strikes me as a facile and inaccurate conclusion. Wars are almost invariably about imperialism, disputes over territory and resources, the expansion or retention of them. Dying in one is hardly a uniquely Irish experience of oppression. As for attributing a young Irish immigrant’s disappearance in a bustling metropolis to colonialism: that’s quite a stretch. McMahon can’t even resist framing the “Kafkaesque nightmare of bureaucracy” that her family encounters as they try to bring her brother back from India. She refers to the country’s red tape as “the frayed remnants of British colonial rule.” <spoiler>What about the ineffectualness of Irish officials in dealing with the problem of a stranded mentally ill national and their taking two years to send a trained escort to bring him home? Is that, too, due to “the frayed remnants” of colonialism?</spoiler> Even Dublin-born short story and New Yorker magazine writer Maeve Brennan and colonization are mentioned in the same breath, though it’s the booze not the British that did the colonizing in Brennan’s case.

McMahon’s fragmentary memoir has a creative structure that supports the goal of reconnecting with the ancestral past. The book is divided into four parts, which are named after ancient Celtic festivals: Imbolc (also called St. Bridget’s Day) which marks the beginning of spring and is celebrated on February 2; Beltane, the Gaelic May Day festival that falls midway between the spring equinox and summer solstice; Lughnasadh, the early August festival that marks the beginning of the harvest; and, finally Samhain, on November 1, the first day of winter and the beginning of the new year, when the veil between this world and the next is lifted and the living can mingle with the dead. McMahon tells about the festivals and relates stories about herself and her family that occurred in the “ordinary time” between those special days.

The author initially presents tells herself as a lost, soul-sick young woman in New York. The ancient Irish phrase <i>uaigneas an chladaigh,</i> meaning “the sense of loneliness on the shore; a haunting presence of people who lived and died long ago” resonates with her. Having always felt the pain of disconnection, she “set about facing the silences” that caused the problem. McMahon explains that her character may have been set before she was born; her young self was troubled in ways she could not access or articulate. McMahon’s mother was in deep grief when Carmel was born. <spoiler>A mere three months before the author’s birth, her five-year-old sister was fatally struck by a car. The child’s death was never spoken of, but McMahon maintains that she and her many siblings were profoundly affected by it.</spoiler> “Childhood,” she writes, “was for other children. Death was my deepest and most primary concern.”

The book contains some family and ancestral stories, but personal ones form the bulk of it. Most focus on McMahon’s time in New York City: her pipe-dream of a modelling career; the humorously depicted, early attempts at waitressing to supplement the far-from-adequate modelling income; later jobs in the office at the Whitney Museum of American Art and as a personal assistant to a wealthy New York woman; her various friends and odd living arrangements; the death of a drug-addicted younger brother back home <spoiler>as well as a riveting account of another brother’s descent into violent paranoid schizophrenia</spoiler>; a road-trip across America, during which she studied US history for her citizenship test; the realization that she’d moved from one colonized land to another; her eventual enrolment at City College in New York City where she studied English, with an emphasis on women’s and postcolonial writing; her ongoing problem with alcohol and her eventual coming to terms with her addiction; and finally, her return to Ireland in 2021.

McMahon’s writing is strong overall, especially when she refrains from funnelling her experiences and those of her ancestors into the restrictive box of postcolonial theory. However, there are a few frustrating lapses into fuzzy prose that sounds profound but whose meaning is elusive. For example, she describes the Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park, which consists of a partial cottage, rebuilt from the original County Mayo stones that were transported across the Atlantic: “The missing roof and walls are sketched in with words like these. Words that reach for meaning in absences and try to make links between people and stones.” What?

I also had trouble with the author’s tendency to self-dramatization and her penchant for mystical interpretations of events. Carl Jung’s eccentric spiritual ideas about subjective experience have clearly influenced the way she views her life. In his later years, Jung believed that “some personal experiences might be attributed to unresolved ancestral issues.” They “manifest in individuals” but are of a “collective nature.” McMahon seems to believe this is her problem—that she’s carrying the pain of her forbears. When her road trip takes her onto the Great Plains, she feels her ancestors are trying to communicate with her. Elsewhere in the book, she states that if a story wants to be told through her, it’ll arise of “its own accord in its own time.” Even her coming to New York is viewed in this rarefied, fateful (can I say “slightly grandiose”?) light: “What is buried, secrets and stories, will in time find a way to surface and be told. Maybe this is why I went to New York, all those years ago, an unknown motive behind the escape, to heal the family haunting that showed up in me to see my forebears fully, and through them to draw a timeline and to see my place on it, to acknowledge their lives and their suffering, so that those who come after us can tread little lighter, not on Ireland, or England, or America, but on the earth that will hold the dust of us all.”

Mystical musings and postcolonial interpretations aside, I enjoyed McMahon’s work of creative nonfiction. It’s an unusual book, and those interested in Irish culture, myth, and personal memoir may also find value in it.

Rating: 3.5 rounded down.

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An intimate raw look at the authors life.She shares her move from Ireland to New York the effects of drinking in her world.This is so lyrically written so much history of her family to absorb.Will be recommending the author and the book.#netgalley #duckworth

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This is an honest yet thoughtful autobiography about alcohol abuse, mental illness, big dreams and persistence. Through trial and error the author tells about her journey to America and unpacking all the baggage she brought not only hers with that of her siblings and family members. I really enjoyed this book as much as you can enjoy once trauma and found inspiration to really had to go to the depths of despair and came out shining. A great example of not giving up in the American dream. I received this book from NetGalley and publisher but I am leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.

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Will be recommending this book wholeheartedly, it‘s one of those treasures I read in digital form and feel like I need a physical copy of to put on a shelf, to thumb through every now and then to remind myself what it meant at the time reading and what continues to mean.

History is so much more than dates and facts - and this memoir feels like that exact „so much more“.

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In 1993, aged twenty, Carmel Mc Mahon left Ireland for New York, carrying $500, two suitcases and a ton of unseen baggage. It took years, and a bitter struggle with alcohol addiction, to unpick the intricate traumas of her past and present.
Candid yet lyrical, In Ordinary Time mines the ways that trauma reverberates through time and through individual lives, drawing connections to the events and rhythms of Ireland’s long Celtic, early Christian and Catholic history. From tragically lost siblings to the broader social scars of the Famine and the Magdalene Laundries, Mc Mahon sketches the evolution of a consciousness – from her conservative 1970s upbringing to 1990s New York, and back to the much-changed Ireland of today.

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IN ORDINARY TIME is an adept and emotionally evocative narrative that interweaves personal memoir, genealogy, and Irish cultural history to examine generational trauma. Are our miseries destined because of genetics? Can we escape grief if our ancestors couldn't escape it themselves? Mc Mahon never asks for pity when detailing the horrible sadness she and her family have endured, both past and present. ORDINARY TIME is a family's intimate history. Still, it's also a fiercely political work that examines how capitalism and colonialism are often to blame when considering how we cope in a world built on oppression and violence. Truly a gem of a read: thought-provoking, tender, and intelligent.

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An interesting memoir about McMahon’s life as a recovering alcoholic, and her move from Dublin to New York. This also deals with her family history, particularly the tragedies surrounding the life of one of her siblings, and his mental illness.

This is thought-provoking in that it deals with Irish history as well - especially towards the end of the book.

I wasn’t sure how McMahon managed to live in New York and what she did for work - she doesn’t really deal with such things, perhaps eschewing details in favour of other experiences.

Thank you to Net Galley for the ARC.

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In Ordinary Time
Fragments of a Family History
by Carmel Mc Mahon

I did not get much out of the book. NOT the writer's fault. I couldn't get into the wording or history of the book. I am very sure many will.

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I certainly will be on the lookout for future writing by Carmel McMahon. Several times her sentences reminded me of a stone skipping over water...graceful and ongoing. This is an extremely personal book but not quite a memoir. The theme, in my perception, is grief, loss, and the effect parent's traumas have on children even if the children weren't born at the time of the event. The latter belief is becoming more widely researched, although it's still mostly anecdotal. Bessel van der Kolk has been writing for years about this, most recently in his best-selling The Body Keeps the Score which the author cites. McMahon's mother suffered a tragedy while pregnant with the author who has come to wonder if somehow she took the mother's pain into her own body. Not hard to believe, but one must also recognize the sense of tragedy that overhung the family throughout the childhoods of eight McMahon children, six of whom were younger than the author. The children fully sensed things that triggered the mother's desperate sadness and did their best to protect her from any reminders. So, yes, it is very possible that they came into the world with an imprint of tragedy that was reinforced by the atmosphere in their home.
The author also beautifully explores the possible imprints of long-ago ancestors with their embodiment of the Celtic experience of nature and the meaning of life. I particularly liked the description of the Irish measurement of time and seasons before the imposition of Greenwich Mean Time. I also loved McMahon's exploration of St. Brigid and her beliefs and practices...and it's no wonder Irish women especially are devoted to her.
The author's siblings have struggled with alcoholism, depression, and, in once case, severe mental illness. Her experiences with the first two are a central theme of the book. She wonders how much is DNA or prenatal effects or growing up in a sad family. I think: all of them. The Irish have retained a sense of the mystical and a perception of "thin places" which may have existed in other old cultures but have been lost. I can't be objective. My own Irish family is very like the author's and some still believe strongly in the presence and guidance of ancestors and the ineffable energies that are so hard to hear and feel in our loud modern society.
Readers who are recently bereaved or suffering a strong sense of loss from whatever source may consider postponing reading this excellent book. The author"s experiences are palpable, and I, for one, had to take breaks here and there.
I hope Ms. McMahon will bless us with more writing about her life. She is a gifted communicator and artist.

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