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10 thoughts on “The Fire Starters

  1. Paromjit Paromjit says:

    Northern Irish writer Jan Carson spins a offbeat and beguiling tale set in a East Belfast with its history of sectarianism where the ghosts and DNA of its past conflicts infiltrates the present Social realism is blended with the colour and magic of the fantastical in the summer of the tall fires incendiary sparks that grow threatening to consume a Belfast with its growing tribe of the rebellious young They are following and emulating the anonymous young man starting and inciting fires in a YouTube video sound tracked by The Prodigy's The Fire Starter Sammy Agnew is married to Pam with 3 children he has a history of being a bad man a loyalist paramilitary terrorising Catholics with guns and burning their cars He has tried to escape his violent and brutal past by relocating the family to a better part of Belfast Dr Jonathan Murray was an unwanted solitary and lonely child raised by parents who were entirely indifferent to him until they emigrate intentionally leaving him behindA socially awkward Jonathan is unable to sustain relationships or function in social circles He finds himself bewitched by the siren call of a overweight mermaid who leaves him upon giving birth to their daughter Sophie Jonathan is simultaneously delighted and afraid of his baby daughter who fundamentally shifts the trajectory of his life for the better as he begins to interact successfully with the outside world He hires Christine a deaf nanny for Sophie whilst he frantically tries to enforce a world of silence terrified of Sophie's potential for death destruction madness and mayhem Sammy recognises his son is a malignant force for evil a son he deserves a retribution for his own haunting and bloody past Jonathan finds some solace in discovering Sophie is not alone as he encounters parents with their own 'unfortunate children' with their own special gifts A troubled Sammy diminishes under the burden of his love and fear of his son and Jonathon tries to find the best way to address the dangers Sophie is likely to pose fathers feeling a sense of responsibility to the world to which their children pose untold horrorsCarson writes a beautifully compelling story of two fathers their relationship with their children Sammy's terror of his son and Jonathan's first real love in his life his beloved Sophie The two men connect seeing each other with a clarity that forges a bond between these two different men over the problematic nature of fatherhood paternal love and sacrifice Sections of Belfast's communities are struggling to evolve a new identity to move on from the wars of the past racked by fear with the slow disappearance of their familiar world and the symbols over which they had invested so much of themselves So Belfast burns until prayers are answered with the never ending floods of biblical proportions This is a brilliant evocation of a Belfast at once recognisable but blurred at the edges with the magical and the fantastical A superb read that I recommend highly Many thanks to Random House Transworld for an ARC


  2. Rachel Rachel says:

    For whatever reason I never tire of reading about the Troubles but The Fire Starters is not your average 'Troubles book' Set in modern day East Belfast Jan Carson imagines a series of fires that break out throughout the city initiated by an enigmatic figure referred to as the Fire Starter who revels in the blood lust that his havoc causes Amidst this violence we have two fathers Sammy Agnew an old man and former paramilitary and Jonathan Murray a socially awkward new father both of whom fear their own children as Sammy begins to suspect that his son is the cause of the Tall Fires and Jonathan begins to suspect that his newborn daughter is a SirenThis is a singular inventive tragic and wildly funny book about the legacy of violence and the lasting scars it leaves on a community The novel's central conceit is reminiscent of Milkman and of other uintessential Northern Irish lit that terror begins at home that trust cannot automatically be extended to one's own family but Jan Carson's interpretation of this theme is far abstract than any I've seen before I'll be honest I'm so relieved that I didn't know there was going to be a magical realism element to this book before picking it up because as I'm sure you all know by now magical realism almost never works for me but fortunately Carson shows us how it's done This book uite literally mythologizes the Troubles as the threat of Sophie the maybe Siren looms large over Jonathan but her narrative role is ambiguous; is Jonathan merely appropriating the grandiosity of the cultural narrative he was raised into or is Sophie actually a danger to society? As Jonathan fears for the future Sammy reminisces on the past and the violent role he played in the conflict in the 1970s; he fears that he can never wash his hands clean and that his actions have irrevocably damaged his son As I'm sure you can tell I loved this Jan Carson's writing is sharp and funny and piercing; the fusion of perspectives works magnificently; the examination of Belfast's history of violence and the ever present threat of its resurgence is timely and unapologetic And this is frankly one of the most original things I've read in a very long time


  3. Marchpane Marchpane says:

    Jan Carson’s The Fire Starters examines fatherhood in a really interesting way The novel follows two separate narrative strands – both set in East Belfast but one is a realistic look at criminal elements and the other is a fantastical tale involving children with supernatural abilities These two stories occasionally connect only to glance off each other like billiard balls remaining mostly self contained It’s a very odd juxtaposition but one which surprisingly works wellEach story follows a father who fears his child believing them to be powerful malevolent and destructive In one Sammy believes his twenty something son is the anonymous Fire Starter a rogue individual who has attracted a large online following and is inciting them to commit a series of devastating arsons known as the Tall Fires throughout the city In the other single dad Jonathan is convinced that his infant daughter is a mythological creature with the potential to do great harm; he discovers a support group for parents of similarly afflicted kids with a range of bizarre abilities These two men’s lives seem worlds apart but each is grappling with similar fears anxieties uestions of heredity and how best to love their monstrous childrenJonathan’s fear of his baby daughter manifests in strange ways but his emotional and sleep deprived state is believable By embodying parental worries in a fantastical conceit Carson allows us to look at them aslant and by juxtaposing a separate completely realistic storyline drives the point home further still Parenthood is weird and causes grown adults to behave in ways that are hardly rational sometimes Newborn babies are such strange and wondrous creatures they might well seem to us like mythological beings A world that was safe and comfortable becomes suddenly menacing and full of dangers once you have a tiny human to protectThe other aspect of this novel that worked really well for me is Carson’s prose There are some terrific zoomed out descriptions of Belfast and its inhabitants and of the fires cutting a swathe through the city These are so vivid and brilliantly done I just had to stop and read them over again Its hybrid nature makes this a tricky book to recommend but if you are open to something a bit different do give it a go 4 stars


  4. Sara Sara says:

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review This book given the very recent events in Derry feels very of its time It highlights a Northern Ireland plagued by sectarian divisions mixing cultural parental issues with a magical and odd perspective to create a story that feels very uniue yet strangely familiar At the heart this is story of fathers and children How we raise them how we teach them about the world around us and what it means to have a child who is ‘different’ The main characters are Sammy and Jonathan Sammy has an adult son and a history steeped in the Troubles He’s constantly trying to hide the anger that sits within himself and at the same time worries that his son may have inherited that anger Jonathan is a single parent to a newborn baby girl incredibly standoffish emotionally awkward and condescending to his patients as their GP One of his patients is Sammy As the story unfolds we see how the lives of these two men intertwine around their growing concerns for their children and we catch a glimpse of a wider secular community of ‘gifted’ children I really enjoyed the sections told from Jonathan’s perspective and found him so irritating yet loveable at the same time His obvious discomfort around all of his patients and his ineptitude at understanding feelings and emotions was both hilarious and sad His further inability to communicate properly with anyone linked to his father unloved past made him very endearing to me Sammy I was less enthralled by although I did find the sections with his wife uite touching The writing is able to capture that feeling of solidarity and deep seated friendship in life long couples very well I liked the many references to Northern Ireland and The Troubles It felt like the author really understood and felt the pain anger and struggles of this time It’s also like a little love letter to the country and the many descriptions of the area made me feel like I was there with the characters It felt very believable and real The writing is odd at times taking on an almost stream of conscious type approach that can be difficult to get a handle on At certain points I struggled with the flow and had to reread large sections of the text to truly understand what was being said The plot and pacing is also a little all over the place This isn’t an action packed read It unfolds slowly and is heavily character driven and if that isn’t really your thing you’re never going to enjoy this It feels very cerebral and not much happens other than lots of talking for uite some time A sometimes uiet book that’s a little odd and a lot strange but with a big heart for characters and Northern Ireland


  5. Sonja Arlow Sonja Arlow says:

    Every year Belfast gets set alightSeriously just google Belfast and Bonfires and you will see unbelievably high pyres just ready to be lit every year on 12 JulyIt’s within this premeditated destructiveness that the story starts And the writing was utterly fantastic in placesI loved that the book focused on the struggles of fatherhood the burdens and doubts fathers face silently with no outlet other than their own racing thoughtsFrom Dr Jonathan Murry whose new baby daughter was conceived with an otherworldly woman one who destroys people with her siren song He will go to great lengths to prevent his daughter from following in her mother’s footstepsTo Sammy Agnew who still carries the guilt of his violent past and recognises this penchant for violence in his oldest son How far will you go to protect a child that has become a danger to society?The book is also interspersed with little snippets of children that are born with odd abilities From a girl with wings to a boy that can see the future in reflective surfaces Initially I could not make heads or tails of these little interludes but it gets explained later on There is a big theme of how being different is viewed as a shameful thing The writing has a gritty feel to it so the story is probably not for everyone but I loved it


  6. Fatma Fatma says:

    35 starsJen Carson is an exceptional writer The Fire Starters has some of the most vivid immersive descriptions of a city and its ethos that I've read in a long time In the hands of Jan Carson East Belfast becomes a city that is at once recognizable and uniue one that somehow feels both familiar in its everyday mundanities and yet utterly distinct in its particular uirks All of this is to say Carson renders the setting of her novel with a masterful balance between the sprawling and the specific And yet this is no portrait of a uaint inert city East Belfast and by extension the people in it is subject to tensions that threaten to uite literally boil over The characters of the The Fire Starters find themselves embroiled in circumstances that seem unexpected and yet strangely inevitable On the one hand there is Sammy Agnew who finds his violent past from the Troubles unearthed and he believes mutated into a far dangerous form in his son's actions On the other there is Jonathan Murray a man whose past has unlike Sammy's been painfully empty and impressionless Together these two men's narratives coalesce into a narrative about fatherhood masculinity and intergenerational relationships how do fathers think of their identities in relation to their children's especially their sons? how does a particular conception of masculinity in East Belfast relate to a particular kind of violence? how does violence seep from one generation to the next and how does it mutate between those generations? In so doing Carson depicts a milieu in which the momentous is often noticed and known but not necessarily acknowledged It becomes not so much a matter of things unseen but rather things left unsaid despite them having been seen In other words a milieu in which silence pervadesThroughout all this Carson pays particular attention to names the ways in which something once named becomes Something a sudden representative of the essence of some kind of phenomenon or event one that is almost destined to prove inadeuate to the task of that representation Names fall short in The Fire Starters; they obfuscate rather than clarifyThis is Belfast This is not BelfastBetter to avoid calling anything a spade in this city Better to avoid names and places dates and second names In this city names are like points on a map or words worked in ink They are trying too hard to pass for truth In this city truth is a circle from one side and a suare from the otherThe Troubles is too less a word for all of this It is a word for minor inconveniences such as overdrawn bank accounts slow punctures a woman's time of the month It is not a violent word The Troubles is always written with a capital T as if it were an event as the Battle of Hastings is an event with a fixed beginning and end a point on the calendar year History will no doubt prove it is actually a verb; an action that can be done to people over and over again like stealing The only thing is I wanted to feel strongly about these characters As cliche as it sounds my favourite character of this novel was East Belfast and really considering the amount of time we spend learning about the conditions of the city from a kind of literary bird's eye view it is absolutely its own character That said I wanted to feel attached to the two main characters Sammy and Jonathan I definitely cared about their struggles and anxieties but I also didn't feel like like they had 100% of my sympathy Regardless The Fire Starters is an impressive novel with even impressive writing Jan Carson is definitely a writer to look out for Thanks so much to Transworld IrelandPenguin Books UK for sending me a copy of this in exchange for an honest review


  7. Nigel Nigel says:

    In brief This is an odd book It's well written but it is somewhat off the wall Aspects I simply loved aspects were strange aspects didn't work for meIn fullThis is set in a Belfast that seems uite recognisable with its sectarian divisions as well as cultural ones However the book does stray from anything I would associate with normality fairly uickly The first chapter left me a little puzzled and it was a while before I could get into the story It is the Summer of the Tall Fires in Belfast and Sammy is concerned about his children We then meet Jonathan actually Dr Jonathan Murray a GP and Sophie his daughter and the strangeness of the book begins to develop It is often dark and down to earth and at times poetic as it follows in the main these two threads that inevitably come togetherOther characters do flit among the pages a little oddly initially However Jonathan and Sammy are the main focus of this book We learn about the lives both current and past Sammy has a background in the Troubles which is dark but felt authentic to me as did the rest of his story However it is Jonathan whose story grabbed me and kept me engaged To call it somewhat bizarre is probably something of an understatement however I felt myself smiling with at times and wincing too For someone who seems unlikeable he is remarkably likeableI don't think I've ever read anything uite like this before It puts a foot in the fantasy stream in a very effective way It looks at life in Belfast in an interesting way I guess to me it is about parenthood in the main and the way your views turn and change over time I imagine I must be fortunate though probably uite normal to not have had to face what Sammy and Jonathan do Some time after actually finishing the book I'm still not uite sure what I think and it However I am glad I read it and it will stay with me for some time to come I'm sureNote I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair reviewhttpviewsonorgukfictionthe fir


  8. Robert Robert says:

    As I stated in my last wrap up I read a lot of solid books By this I mean that the novels were good and I liked them but I wanted a WOW factor The Fire Starters was the exception Trust me this is a WOW book from start to finishThe setting of the book is Belfast 2014 The Troubles are over but someone is starting a series of fires around the city Sammy Agnew thinks that his son Mark is the arsonist After all when Sammy was young he caused a lot of havoc and he thinks that the violence gene was passed onIn another storyline Jonathan who is the result of uncaring parents is scared that his baby daughter can injure the human race As he is a doctor Jonathan has a medical solution which cannot be considered ethicalThe Fire Starters is a magical realist novel Creatures roam the pages bizarre things happen and surreal situations occurBut the fantasy element is only one part of the novelThe book is mainly about fatherchild relationships Both fathers in the book feel that they have to sacrifice something so that their children may prosper no matter how dangerous they are Eventually Jonathan and Sammy’s destinies do cross which influences their final decisionThe other theme in the book is politics Carson makes some swipes at gentrification values and Belfast before and after The Troubles Carson is a gently humorous writer so I did grin at these sectionsThe Fire Starters is a fantastic read The magical realist bits are a joy to read and combined with the gritty Sammy plotline works The majority of the writing does have that distinctive Irish style like a person telling a tale down in a pub and there many moments of pure pleasure None of the characters in the book are redeemable but the reader will care for themIn the grand tradition of Rushdie Garcia Maruez and Allende Carson is able to ascend into flights of fancy but manages to use that as a way of exposing the grim realities of life


  9. Sarah Sarah says:

    It took me a little while to get on board with the style of The Fire Starters Barney Norris described it as fizzing with energy which about sums it up The style feels a little stream of consciousness at times too a little frenetic But as the novel progresses it becomes evident that this fits the narrative fires are raging across Belfast faster than they can be put outSet in east Belfast the story focuses mostly on two men worried about their children and what they might be capable of one Jonathan who is concerned about his newborn daughter and the other Sammy is worried about his adult sonI'd agree with another uote from the blurb too that this is fiercely original At times it is grittily real at others there are magical elements Recommended Thank you Netgalley and Random House UKTransworld Publishers for the advance copy which was provided in exchange for an honest review


  10. MisterHobgoblin MisterHobgoblin says:

    Absolutely loved The Fire Starters Maybe it was all the references to Connswater Tesco where I used to do my shopping though it was better when it was still StewartsThis is a comic novel set in the heart of loyalist East Belfast Sammy Agnew is a decommissioned paramilitary trying to cope with civilian life Jonathan Murray is a GP whose heart is not really in his work Both share a feeling of irrelevance; both share concerns that their children are growing up to become monsters Much of the humour is derived from a deadpan explanation of the cultural s of the protestant working man With a straight fact we are told of the traditions of the Twelfth; the need to assert cultural supremacy over the neighbouring Catholics by the building of immensely tall bonfires; and the injustice of the lack of appreciation for these acts of fealty by the State that they are designed to venerate And there is Jonathan's first person narrative that sneers at his patients especially the older and poorer sections of society as he himself feasts on red wine and pizza Then every now and then the Sammy and Jonathan narratives will break for a vignette of a child with some extraordinary and esoteric superpower with some superpowers useful than others Being able to turn into a boat for example is probably less useful than say the ability to fly Both Sammy and Jonathan are simultaneously grotesue and loveable There is a sense that they put on an external act to satisfy others' expectations but underneath there is a genuine human They feel realThe novel is also hugely referential Some references to popular culture music the Anonymous movement politicians are uite obvious Others are subtle there's than a hint for example of the NIO Cats In The Cradle advert; or the Midnight's Children superpowers And then there's this idea of linking prodigy to fire starters Spotting these references adds enormously to the funThe plot as it unfolds is a masterpiece It leads the reader off to expect some kind of terroristpolice procedural but in fact is a really insightful look at the relationships between parents and children; the aspirations we have for our kids and how we handle things when they don't turn out uite the way we expected; the way we understand their uniueness in a world where other people's children blur into a single society I really cannot find fault in The Fire Starters I wholeheartedly recommend this novel


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The Fire Starters 'Spectacular At once grittily real wildly magical and insanely alluring a siren song of a novel' DONAL RYAN'A brilliant wry novel fizzing with energy' BARNEY NORRISDr Jonathan Murray fears his new born daughter is not as harmless as she seemsSammy Agnew is wrestling with his dark past and fears the violence in his blood lurks in his son tooThe city is in flames and the authorities are losing control As matters fall into frenzy and as the lines between fantasy and truth right and wrong begin to blur who will these two fathers choose to protectDark propulsive and thrillingly original this tale of fierce familial love and sacrifice fizzes with magic and wonder