The Last Word – Quick Review

Last Word

New Scientist

Oxford University Press (1998), 229 pages

Irish Cancer Society Charity Shop, €0.50

This is a collection of questions from the New Scientist’s Last Word column where  New Scientist readers pose questions about everyday scientific conundrums.  Queries include, “How loud was the Big Bang?”, “What causes crystal glasses to go cloudy in the dishwasher?”, “Why do men have nipples?”, “Why are left-handed people at a greater risk of accidental death?”, and “Why do flying fish fly?”   The Last Word is an entertaining way to kill a few hours and change your view of everyday items and events.

7/10

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Antarctica by Claire Keegan – Quick Review

AntarcticaClaire Keegan  300px-Flag_of_Ireland.svg

Faber and Faber (1999), 209 pages

Irish Cancer Society Charity Shop, Rathmines, €1

Antarctica is one of the darkest collections of short stories I’ve ever read.  Keegan’s stories are a pack of wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.  They lure you into the innocent belief that you are reading a story set in a “normal” environment but then you suddenly realise that something shocking is happening.  The title story concerns a woman who decides to embark on an extra-marital fling.  The story opens with a cozy Christmas tone  but who ends up with a woman fighting for her life.  Keegan is exceptionally skilled at creating shockingly believable scenarios and finely drawing the details of male and female relationships.

If there is a criticism of Antarctica it is that the unrelenting darkness is, at times, almost too much.  The shift in location between Ireland, England, and the USA is somewhat jarring and affects the tone of the collection too.  The closing story, Passport Soup, is about two parents dealing with the fallout of the events surrounding the disappearance of their only daughter.  Despair, bitterness, and blame permeate the tale.  This story is only eight pages long and it’s almost as if Keegan realises that there is a limit to how much she can make her readers suffer.

8/10

Antarctica

The Terra Nova in McMurdo Sound, 7 January 2011 Credit: newscientist.com