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A breathtaking mix of memoir, nature writing and social history: this is Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s story of a wild Ireland, an invisible border, an old conflict and the healing power of the natural world Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a grey and impoverished council estate on the wrong side of A breathtaking mix of memoir, nature writing and social history: this is Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s story of a wild Ireland, an invisible border, an old conflict and the healing power of the natural world Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a grey and impoverished council estate on the wrong side of town. But for her family, and many others, there was no right side. One parent was Catholic, the other was Protestant. In the space of one year they were forced out of two homes and when she was eleven a homemade petrol bomb was thrown through her bedroom window. Terror was in the very fabric of the city, and for families like Kerri’s, the ones who fell between the cracks of identity, it seemed there was no escape. In Thin Places, a mixture of memoir, history and nature writing, Kerri explores how nature kept her sane and helped her heal, how violence and poverty are never more than a stone’s throw from beauty and hope, and how we are, once again, allowing our borders to become hard, and terror to creep back in. Kerri asks us to reclaim our landscape through language and study, and remember that the land we fight over is much more than lines on a map, more than housing estates and parliament buildings – it will always be ours but, at the same time, it never really was.


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A breathtaking mix of memoir, nature writing and social history: this is Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s story of a wild Ireland, an invisible border, an old conflict and the healing power of the natural world Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a grey and impoverished council estate on the wrong side of A breathtaking mix of memoir, nature writing and social history: this is Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s story of a wild Ireland, an invisible border, an old conflict and the healing power of the natural world Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a grey and impoverished council estate on the wrong side of town. But for her family, and many others, there was no right side. One parent was Catholic, the other was Protestant. In the space of one year they were forced out of two homes and when she was eleven a homemade petrol bomb was thrown through her bedroom window. Terror was in the very fabric of the city, and for families like Kerri’s, the ones who fell between the cracks of identity, it seemed there was no escape. In Thin Places, a mixture of memoir, history and nature writing, Kerri explores how nature kept her sane and helped her heal, how violence and poverty are never more than a stone’s throw from beauty and hope, and how we are, once again, allowing our borders to become hard, and terror to creep back in. Kerri asks us to reclaim our landscape through language and study, and remember that the land we fight over is much more than lines on a map, more than housing estates and parliament buildings – it will always be ours but, at the same time, it never really was.

30 review for Thin Places

  1. 4 out of 5

    Annette Jordan

    Thin Places by Kerri ni Dochartaigh may be one of the last books I read in the strange year that has been 2020 but it is also one of the best. I found myself slowing down to savour the beautiful words on the page and the vivid images they conjured. The book is part memoir, part nature writing and part history, taking the author's story of growing up in Derry as part of a mixed Faith family during the Troubles and showing how from a very young age her connection with the natural world was a groun Thin Places by Kerri ni Dochartaigh may be one of the last books I read in the strange year that has been 2020 but it is also one of the best. I found myself slowing down to savour the beautiful words on the page and the vivid images they conjured. The book is part memoir, part nature writing and part history, taking the author's story of growing up in Derry as part of a mixed Faith family during the Troubles and showing how from a very young age her connection with the natural world was a grounding force and a safety net during difficult times. The theme of borders, both natural and man made runs through the book which feels so current in the time of Brexit and all the particular concerns that the people of Northern Ireland have about the process. It is an incredibly personal piece of writing , the author is courageous enough to share some very dark moments from her past, but there is also a lot of hope , and so much beauty in her writing. Her descriptions of the natural world almost sing from the page , so lyrical, evocative and powerful. that I am in awe. I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own .

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katy Wheatley

    I really struggled with this book. I think I thought it would be more about nature than it was. That's not to say that it wasn't, but the focus and drive of the book is the author's working through her incredibly traumatic life and the key events in that journey that led her home. She references the 'thin places' often but for myself I didn't get a full sense of what they were like as places, more like what they represented to her as an individual and how she was able to connect with her trauma I really struggled with this book. I think I thought it would be more about nature than it was. That's not to say that it wasn't, but the focus and drive of the book is the author's working through her incredibly traumatic life and the key events in that journey that led her home. She references the 'thin places' often but for myself I didn't get a full sense of what they were like as places, more like what they represented to her as an individual and how she was able to connect with her trauma in those spaces. The book is very much about her inner landscape and how that shaped her responses in later life. It was a pretty devastating read. It felt to me like her recovery was pretty raw and facilitated as much by her writing as the things she writes about.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Richard Eastop

    I've become a fan of what I might call Irish Noir fiction. So many talented writers continue to emerge in Ireland and I enjoy in particular the dark tragi-comedy that many express. Landscape is often a powerful 'character' in these stories which, my having made a number of visits to the country, makes the reading experience so strong. So when I read that 'Thin Places' was a mixture of memoir, history and nature I jumped in. As I read the first chapters I felt a reluctant disappointment. Had no-on I've become a fan of what I might call Irish Noir fiction. So many talented writers continue to emerge in Ireland and I enjoy in particular the dark tragi-comedy that many express. Landscape is often a powerful 'character' in these stories which, my having made a number of visits to the country, makes the reading experience so strong. So when I read that 'Thin Places' was a mixture of memoir, history and nature I jumped in. As I read the first chapters I felt a reluctant disappointment. Had no-one ever suggested to the author one of the first rules of writing – show don't tell? Key moments seemed to be merely referred to rather than conveyed. Landscape and the nature within it, so crucial to the author's experience, were expressed through a kind of magic realism so private that I struggled to feel the weight of trauma behind it. I didn't understand what a thin place is. I concede this could well be my failure of empathy or a reductionist attitude. 'Loss' and 'grief' figure overwhelmingly in the book but, again, as words on the page rather than as a consequence of realised experience. But it was through these encounters that I began to respond to the book in a different way. The author presents her life in the family and social sphere as unrelentingly painful and frequently traumatic. But, I wondered, how can you feel so much loss and grief if you have never had joy, if you've never experienced anything you wanted to keep and hold onto? How can you miss what you never had? So we are drawn into the mysteries of the human heart. We discover that someone so traumatised is capable of summoning to her heart a knowledge of what she has never had. She grieves for a lost childhood without knowing what it should have been. The demon-creatures she evokes, some healing, some terrifying, exist in the landscape of her psyche where she seeks to live out alternative states of being. The black crow which figures frequently suggests the black dog that can visit those experiencing depression. I suppose the thin places are those where her spirit is most stimulated to enter this potential state of healing. Kerri ni Dochartaigh was prescribed counselling relatively late, after enduring much pain and trauma. What we are reading in this book is self-counselling through talking/writing therapy before formal counselling had become available to her. So we have obsession, circularity, esoteric visions, gnawing on the bones of experience. In her conclusion she suggests she has found some peace.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    4.5 Beautiful ♥️

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Growing in up in Northern Ireland was tough in the time of the Troubles for all sorts of people. For Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s it was even harder. One parent was Protestant and the other Catholic and the area that they lived was part of a Protestant estate. Not fitting in with any of the divided communities really didn’t help, but she was witness to all sorts of traumatic events including witnessing the murder of a soldier as a small child, It got much harder to live there after her home was firebo Growing in up in Northern Ireland was tough in the time of the Troubles for all sorts of people. For Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s it was even harder. One parent was Protestant and the other Catholic and the area that they lived was part of a Protestant estate. Not fitting in with any of the divided communities really didn’t help, but she was witness to all sorts of traumatic events including witnessing the murder of a soldier as a small child, It got much harder to live there after her home was firebombed, but it was a place that felt that you could never escape from. Moving to a new area of Ireland gave her a glimpse of what could be possible in her life, no one cared what her nominated religion was nor of her background. But still, the troubles impinged on her life; a friend was taken only an hour after seeing his and found later in a shallow grave. She somehow made it through school and university though and decided that Ireland was not for her anymore and headed to the UK. It was here that all the trauma of the past slowly caught up with her. She started drinking heavily, sunk into depression and gave up any hope that things might get better. She walked to the very edge of the abyss and waited her time. There are places that speak of that unwritten language of letting go, of giving in, of being held like a hand in silent universal prayer As heavy as this emotional baggage was there were points in her life that started the healing process long before she knows there was anything that could be fixed. Staying at Treshnish on the Isle of Mull, there was a day when the harr, a dense sea fog, had lifted and she was swimming in the dark waters in the intense blackness and silence of the place held her safe. She would sob beneath oak trees, her tears wetting the ground, the roots absorbing her sorrows. She would gather objects like a magpie, piling them up on her windowsills as fragments of memories of places and time spent alone. Her flatmate found her weeping uncontrollably under the stairs. She helped her to bed and then waited until she finally slept. Then came the moment on a beach in January when she felt held in a place other than this world; she had found a thin place. It was time to return to Ireland Places only hold us close enough that we can finally see ourselves reflected back At times this is a really hard book to read. Ní Dochartaigh has been through a lot in her life and she tells us about it in a way that is open, honest and unflinching in its intensity. She knows that her life story may well have been very different if she had made other choices. Thankfully she didn’t and this is why we have this book. She draws energy deeply from being in the wild outdoors, feeling the power of wind and water and understanding that we are mere moments in geological time. What she draws from the natural world is mirrored in her prose, which particularly in the second half of the book is just beautiful. This book might not be for everyone, but it comes highly recommended from me. 4.5 stars

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    The "thin places" of the title refers to (in the author's own words - please be minded any quotes may change in the final version of the book): "places that make us feel something larger than ourselves, as though we are held in place between worlds, beyond experience." I love the idea of this, and the blend of nature and memoir always intrigues me, but I'm sorry to say little here worked for me. I didn't feel wholly convinced by the connections the author looks for between emotions, memory and pl The "thin places" of the title refers to (in the author's own words - please be minded any quotes may change in the final version of the book): "places that make us feel something larger than ourselves, as though we are held in place between worlds, beyond experience." I love the idea of this, and the blend of nature and memoir always intrigues me, but I'm sorry to say little here worked for me. I didn't feel wholly convinced by the connections the author looks for between emotions, memory and place, and think this has been done in a more cogent and affecting way elsewhere. Thank you Netgalley and Canongate for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Violet

    This is an imperfect book but I couldn't help loving it and I think I will re-read it. It is less nature-oriented than I thought it would be; but there are beautiful descriptions of nature, especially the sea, the river and the birds. The theme of the "thin places", borders, thresholds, in-betweens, is woven through the book It is lyrical, poetic, although repetitive at times.. There are many pages where the author describes being rejected and living in fear as a child - their house being petrol This is an imperfect book but I couldn't help loving it and I think I will re-read it. It is less nature-oriented than I thought it would be; but there are beautiful descriptions of nature, especially the sea, the river and the birds. The theme of the "thin places", borders, thresholds, in-betweens, is woven through the book It is lyrical, poetic, although repetitive at times.. There are many pages where the author describes being rejected and living in fear as a child - their house being petrol-bombed when she was little -, and the second part of the book is more focused on her mental health - depression, grief, trauma. She comes across as incredibly self-aware and honest about it, describing feeling empty, moving often, drinking by herself every night. These pages were less lyrical, but poetic in their own way - and very moving, at times I wished I could hug the narrator. Some beautiful and interesting comments about the Irish language and Irish history; her progress in learning Irish, and the origin of many places names - something I find fascinating. Overall it is a beautiful book, with its imperfections, but there's something very loveable and touching about it, and there are many, many gorgeous paragraphs. Free ARC from Netgalley.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth McMenamin

    I cannot but help thinking that this book is more of a fantasy than a reality. Most of her so called experiences are simply too numerous and too far fetched. She was born in the early-mid 1980s so even her age does not match up with these 'traumatic' experiences of the conflict that she states she had growing up in Derry. Whilst I can't dispute that this author may have had some awful times in her life, nevertheless, it would appear that she cleverly uses her tenuous links throughout and embelli I cannot but help thinking that this book is more of a fantasy than a reality. Most of her so called experiences are simply too numerous and too far fetched. She was born in the early-mid 1980s so even her age does not match up with these 'traumatic' experiences of the conflict that she states she had growing up in Derry. Whilst I can't dispute that this author may have had some awful times in her life, nevertheless, it would appear that she cleverly uses her tenuous links throughout and embellishes them for dramatic purposes. It is simply not believable for the most part. Kerri would be better sticking to fiction. A definite no no.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    'Through deeply traumatic and unsettled times I have been brought or found my own way across that border to seek solace in the weeds and wilderness held its hidden, healing, thin places.' . Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh is a beautifully written book that deals with raw, difficult experiences in a wise and careful way. It is about borders and trauma, love and loss, and the edges of nature, from lichen on rocks, to a moth by the sea or ladybirds in the backyard of a house on a council estate. 'Through deeply traumatic and unsettled times I have been brought or found my own way across that border to seek solace in the weeds and wilderness held its hidden, healing, thin places.' . Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh is a beautifully written book that deals with raw, difficult experiences in a wise and careful way. It is about borders and trauma, love and loss, and the edges of nature, from lichen on rocks, to a moth by the sea or ladybirds in the backyard of a house on a council estate. A moving account of the author's life on the boundary between the North and South of Ireland, and a book that feels right for this dark and in-between time we're living through.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Happy Wanderer

    Kerri sensitively writes of her experience growing up during the most troubled times in Northern Irish history. Her story is similar to others who love their country yet Kerri’s view is uniquely different too. The thing about Northern Ireland is, that everyone who lives on this beautiful island is touched by the politics and sectarianism. Without question each story is valid. I found Kerry’s perspective of it alongside her soulful weaving of nature made Thin Places a thoughtful read. Highly reco Kerri sensitively writes of her experience growing up during the most troubled times in Northern Irish history. Her story is similar to others who love their country yet Kerri’s view is uniquely different too. The thing about Northern Ireland is, that everyone who lives on this beautiful island is touched by the politics and sectarianism. Without question each story is valid. I found Kerry’s perspective of it alongside her soulful weaving of nature made Thin Places a thoughtful read. Highly recommended.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jen Burrows

    Thin Places is a beautifully-written memoir about the Troubles, trauma and healing. Kerri Ní Dochartaigh crafts some stunning images and her prose sings from the page. Her descriptions of the thin places are almost incantations, transporting you straight to the Atlantic shores of Ireland. While it gets a little repetitive at times, I loved the rich mix of nature writing and mythology. But the beauty is always held at counterpoint to the brutality of the Troubles. This is a raw and honest explorati Thin Places is a beautifully-written memoir about the Troubles, trauma and healing. Kerri Ní Dochartaigh crafts some stunning images and her prose sings from the page. Her descriptions of the thin places are almost incantations, transporting you straight to the Atlantic shores of Ireland. While it gets a little repetitive at times, I loved the rich mix of nature writing and mythology. But the beauty is always held at counterpoint to the brutality of the Troubles. This is a raw and honest exploration of trauma - both personal and generational. Northern Ireland has a complex history and it's vital that we recognise the ongoing impact of violence and hope today. Thin Places is an important and powerful read: haunting and hopeful in equal measures. *Thank you to Netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review*

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ali Moore

    I bought this book for myself as I have an interest in local stories. As a member of the L’Derry diaspora in England, I was hoping to be thrown back to my own late 70s childhood. As a few other reviewers have expressed, this book is quite far from reality. That is not saying it isn’t an interesting read, but this author does seem to be prone to flights of fancy. She keeps things vague so that she can embellish, for example she does not name the estate in L’Derry’s Waterside in which she grew up I bought this book for myself as I have an interest in local stories. As a member of the L’Derry diaspora in England, I was hoping to be thrown back to my own late 70s childhood. As a few other reviewers have expressed, this book is quite far from reality. That is not saying it isn’t an interesting read, but this author does seem to be prone to flights of fancy. She keeps things vague so that she can embellish, for example she does not name the estate in L’Derry’s Waterside in which she grew up although it’s obvious where through a bit of local knowledge and she does not point to the year she saw the person shot in front of her, making it very difficult for her readers to figure out the exact incidents she is writing about. As this book is supposed to be historical, this vagueness makes me uncomfortable. And if it’s not a history book and is instead a memoir, as readers, this makes us wonder about the point of memoir writing, as the writer uses extremely long extended metaphors to explain how harrowing her life has been, without much actual real detail. It is very strange because the crow is not really written like a metaphor (as it is in Max Porter’s Grief book which I believe is a play on Ted Hughes’ book Crow) it is written as if it was actually there. The book seems to take place in the writer’s mind, rather than in the real world, which is good for fiction but not when you’re writing a book that is being sold as a memoir of a specific place and time that other people also lived in and can remember. This isn’t a book for people from L’Derry. This is not a history book, it is too vague, it is not factual enough to be a memoir. I found this book disappointing and I regret being persuaded to buy it by its ott marketing campaign.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cliff.Hanger.Books

    Thin places is an autobiographical account of the trauma the author experienced growing up in Derry during the Troubles and the ripple effect that Brexit causes over Ireland and Northern Irelands over 100 years after the Easter Rising. It seems too easy to say what this book is about, but not easy to describe how this book made me feel. This book is about loss and grief. It’s about borders: personal, geographical and symbolic ones. But mostly is the journey of a woman coming to terms with hersel Thin places is an autobiographical account of the trauma the author experienced growing up in Derry during the Troubles and the ripple effect that Brexit causes over Ireland and Northern Irelands over 100 years after the Easter Rising. It seems too easy to say what this book is about, but not easy to describe how this book made me feel. This book is about loss and grief. It’s about borders: personal, geographical and symbolic ones. But mostly is the journey of a woman coming to terms with herself and history. In the author’s words the history of the Irish border and herself intertwine and I don’t think they can be severed. This book made me cry, it made my chest feel incredibly heavy, but I loved every single word in it. If you are feeling vulnerable I would be cautious reading this book (Tw: Suicide). I think the story she tells is remarkable and necessary. Wheather you know anything about the history of the Irish border or not I cannot encourage you enough to read this book and meet the people behind the numbers in history books, Dochartaigh deserves your attention.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Regina Dooley

    l found this book a difficult read and could only read it in short passages. The writer is a very sensitive person with a deep appreciation of nature and its healing power. The memoir is told in pieces with her life story and emotional responses linked to the landscape where she was living at that time. lt is a very introspective book and l found the writers deep sadness hard to read for most of the book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael starrett

    A kind of homecoming Not an easy read in places and get a compelling one. Not easy because when you know the places , thin and other, it reminds you of what could have been your lot too. Compelling because it leads you to a place that is at peace in your mind if not yet in reality.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarah O'Riordan | travelseatsreads

    This is one of the more unusual books I've read in a while and probably one I normally would have steered clear of. I generally am not a fan of over elaborate writing or indeed nature writing. That aside this book captivated me fully. It is one of those books that while not a whole lot is actually happening, so much happens under the surface. Kerri's use of language is something special in itself. Through multiple layers of symbolism she looks at her ever changing aspects of trauma she has experi This is one of the more unusual books I've read in a while and probably one I normally would have steered clear of. I generally am not a fan of over elaborate writing or indeed nature writing. That aside this book captivated me fully. It is one of those books that while not a whole lot is actually happening, so much happens under the surface. Kerri's use of language is something special in itself. Through multiple layers of symbolism she looks at her ever changing aspects of trauma she has experienced over the years. She allows you in so deep into her struggles and how she dealt with them. The good the bad and very often the ugly. Kerri delves quite deeply into the topics of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, her own mental health issues and experienced trauma and can be a little bit wordy at times. So, it may not be one to read while in a fragile place, but it is a truly beautiful piece of work that is worth putting the effort into.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    “Places do not heal us. Places only hold us; they only let us in. Places only hold us close enough that we can finally see ourselves reflected back.” Place; a word filled with so much meaning. It’s where you come from; perhaps where you escape from; where you travel and retreat to; where you put down roots. It can be a home; a prison; a shelter; an identity; a memory; a threshold; a portal. Place is often earthly, tangible and distinct, but it can also be transcendental, elusive and symbolic. The t “Places do not heal us. Places only hold us; they only let us in. Places only hold us close enough that we can finally see ourselves reflected back.” Place; a word filled with so much meaning. It’s where you come from; perhaps where you escape from; where you travel and retreat to; where you put down roots. It can be a home; a prison; a shelter; an identity; a memory; a threshold; a portal. Place is often earthly, tangible and distinct, but it can also be transcendental, elusive and symbolic. The thin places described in this book are just that; liminal, in-between, unnamable places...natural, wild places; healing spaces...where the veil between this world and the next is thin and anything is possible. Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. The daughter of a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, Kerri spent most of her childhood moving from place to place, seeking safety and belonging in a city and a country fuelled by intolerance and violence. ‘Thin Places’ is Kerri’s story; a blend of memoir, nature writing, social history and political commentary centred on her personal journey of recovery and healing from unimaginable pain and trauma. Rather than a highly structured, linear narrative, however, ‘Thin Places’ is open and reflective, brimming with resonant metaphors and evocative descriptions of place. It’s about Ireland; about hope; about the power of nature, the importance of language and the need for connection and belonging; an urgent and timely warning call against the growing threat of hard borders between nations. I can’t wait to read what Kerri writes next! Thank you @canongatebooks for my #gifted proof copy.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Powell

    This lady has had a tough life and I really admire her honesty. She writes beautifully, with vulnerability. Slightly too ethereal for me in parts but the strength of the story and her love of nature shone through.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Molly

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kate Shaw

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Marshall

  23. 4 out of 5

    AndrEa

  24. 4 out of 5

    Niamh Taylor

  25. 5 out of 5

    Trish

  26. 5 out of 5

    Niamh

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karin

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Kirby-Smith

  29. 5 out of 5

    Regina Ruane

  30. 4 out of 5

    Áine Maire

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