Friday 26 January 2024

Kala by Colin Walsh #BookReview #Kala #ColinWalsh @AtlanticBooks


In the seaside town of Kinlough, on Ireland's west coast, three old friends are thrown together for the first time in years. They - Helen, Joe and Mush - were part of an original group of six inseparable teenagers in the summer of 2003, with motherless, reckless Kala Lanann as their group's white-hot centre. Soon after that summer's peak, Kala disappeared without a trace.

Now it's fifteen years later. Human remains have been discovered in the woods. Two more girls have gone missing. As past and present begin to collide, the estranged friends are forced to confront their own complicity in the events that led to Kala's disappearance, and to try to stop Kinlough's violent patterns repeating themselves once again...

Against the backdrop of a town suffocating on its own secrets, in a story that builds from a smoulder to a stunning climax, Kala brilliantly examines the sometimes brutal costs of belonging, as well as the battle in the human heart between vengeance and forgiveness, despair and redemption.

Kala by Colin Walsh was published in hardback by Atlantic Books on 6 July 2023, the paperback edition is published on 4 July 2024. I bought my copy from Blackwells, Oxford. 

I bought my copy of this book way back in August last year. I'd heard so much about it, and I have a real fondness for Irish writing. Like lots of my purchases, it has stayed on the shelf ever since then. I finally read it and I am so so glad that I did. How many of us buy a shiny new hardback and then don't get around to actually reading it before the paperback publication date arrives?? 

Kala has been described in Kirkus as 'part brutal Irish noir', and I could not think of a better description. For me, it was almost perfect; the setting, the characterisation and the mystery that runs through the plot, along with the pure 'Irishness' of much of the dialogue which reminded me of my Mum, and the many summers I spent in Donegal as a child. 

Kinlough is a small tourist town on the West Coast of Ireland and the story is set there, using a dual time line to inform the reader of things in the past, and how they impact on the current happenings.

Helen, Joe and Mush were great friends back in 2003, along with Kala Lannan and few others on the sidelines of their group. Their lives were turned upside down when Kala went missing and despite an investigation by the Guards, she was never found. Kala was unique; one of a kind. Wild, untamed and often hurtful, but with a large heart and much love to give. Her disappearance fractured the friendships and Helen and Joe both left Kinlough, whilst Mush stayed in town, working with his mother in the cafe. Mush is a quiet, steady man, yet locals only have to glance at him to remember what happened back then. 

Fifteen years later and Helen and Joe have both returned to Kinlough. Helen is there for a family wedding, she's a freelance journalist in Canada, whilst Joe is now a famous musician, recovering alcoholic and has returned to revive a local music venue. The reunion of these three people is awkward at time, overshadowed by their memories of years ago. And then, during an excavation locally, the body of a young woman is found. The remains are identified, and it is Kala. Helen and Joe are thrust back into the heart of the community, alongside Mush and becoming reacquainted with people they'd rather forget completely. 

Walsh is an incredibly clever and sensitive author. The two time lines are woven precisely, with each new discovery making the reader's journey much clearer. He doesn't hold back on the truths and there are some violent and distressing scenes throughout, but these just add a depth and a darkness to this extraordinary story. 

As long buried secrets are slowly uncovered, and two more teenage girls disappear, everything that Helen, Mush and Joe thought they knew, and what they believed to be true is torn apart, and it's often tragic to read. 

Dark, immersive and crafted beautifully, it's difficult to grasp that this a debut novel. I was so impressed, it's not a book to be rushed, it's a book to savour and digest slowly. Highly recommended.

COLIN WALSH's short stories have won several awards including the RTE Francis
MacManus Short Story Prize and the Hennessy Literary Award. 

In 2019 he was named Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year. 

His writing has been published in the Stinging Fly, the Irish Times and broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4. 

Kala is his first novel. 

He is from Galway and lives in Belgium.

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