Colm Herron is an exceptional writer who deserves more widespread recognition, and ‘Anna’ is his finest work to date. It deals (as do his other books) with the special relationship Northern Ireland has with bigotry, and Herron has a rare ability to get right to the heart of the matter. I found myself thinking throughout: “What a piece of work is a man” – immensely talented and yet deeply flawed; funny, sad, noble and pathetic, all at the same time.
This is a story about abuse. It’s told by Robert, “twenty-eight, respectable teacher, virgin till two weeks ago”, whose mind from early childhood was undermined by Roman Catholic dogma and myth and whose heart was led down the garden path with fables and warnings from God knows when. “You have to remember that in our hierarchy of evil the sin of fornication ranks more seriously than any other up to and sometimes including homicide …” He strikes up a relationship with Anna, an angry, bisexual, radical socialist who throughout her childhood was sexually abused by her father, and who – predictably – has no regard for Catholic principles. Featuring in this hilariously entertaining tapestry of a tale are a host of local characters, each of whom adds to the richness and profundity of the narrative.
Herron has a wicked sense of humour, a sharp eye for detail, and a command of language and literature that makes his work a deep and lasting pleasure to read. I am resisting the temptation to offer you a hundred examples of his biting wit, spot-on similes and touchingly lyrical language. Instead, I will simply recommend “Anna” without reservation. Do read this book. I think that, like me, you will laugh and cry in equal measure.