“The Origins Of Benjamin Hackett” by Gerald M. O’Connor

Another NetGalley read here, but a more recent one, because I’m reaching the point of having to write reviews before posting them here instead of having a stock saved up on Goodreads. This is what happens when I don’t schedule things far enough in advance… Although, talking of being in advance, this book actually doesn’t come out until early February. Normally, I’d save my review until January, but I’m short on posts, so I’m putting it up now. Hopefully that’s not too much of a reviewing faux pas.


I think I’ve forgotten how to write book reviews, because I have no idea where to start with this book. Overall, I enjoyed it — it didn’t take me long to read, the dialogue was snappy and there were parts that made me laugh, and it’s got a plot that goes from one complication to another without having a convoluted overarching narrative that the reader is somehow expected to figure out. My favourite kind of plot.

It’s also incredibly Irish. I wasn’t entirely expecting that, but it’s set in Cork, and everything about it — from the phrasing and slang to the jokes to the use of hurling sticks for uses other than their intended purpose — makes that very clear. I mean, to be honest, the entire plot is linked to the setting. Benjamin has just learned that he was adopted, and he’s on a quest to find his birth parents, but the convent where he was born has been covering up this information for years. That, in itself, is something quite specific to Ireland — there have been a number of scandals about that kind of thing.

I’m a big fan of Ireland, mainly as a medieval and literary concept, but also as a place — I’d like to move there one day, if possible, although that’ll depend on my own circumstances. (And, you know, the general political environment. Plus, this is assuming the world doesn’t end in the next few months, which isn’t looking so unlikely these days.) So something that felt so authentically Irish was quite a good fit for me.

However, I didn’t find the characters’ motivations entirely convincing. Benjamin has just learned, after eighteen years without an inkling, that he’s adopted, and immediately he’s mad at his parents and wants to track down his birth parents (and possibly punch them in the face for abandoning him). While I could understand his curiosity, because most people would want to know that kind of thing, he took it to lengths I wouldn’t have expected.

You’d think, once information became that difficult to get hold of, you’d settle for knowing that your parents raised you for eighteen years and love you and who cares if you didn’t come out of your mum’s womb, right? But he keeps pursuing it, even when it becomes life-threatening. I would have found it more convincing if there was something else resting on the discovery, some ulterior motive for knowing his birth parents’ identities. That said, I’m not adopted, and I have no idea how I would react in that scenario, so maybe it’s reasonable enough.

The book did seem curiously old-fashioned, though. One would’ve expected his first port of call to be the internet, but that never seems to cross his mind. There’s a reference to an iPhone or something later in the book, so it’s obviously not meant to be set twenty years ago, but it has a curiously timeless feel to it with the lack of modern markers that would have made it more clearly ‘present’.

The actual reveal about the identity of Ben’s birth parents was pretty clever, I thought, and just complicated enough for me not to have guessed it in advance, with lots of red herrings to throw the reader off the scent. As a mystery, it certainly worked well enough, though it had quite a lot of action along the way (such as burning down a convent, a little bit accidentally).

I enjoyed the book for what it was, but I think overall it could have had a more clearly defined sense of genre — the amount of action seemed disproportionate to the stakes since, as I’ve said, there was nothing but Ben’s peace of mind resting on the information about his birth parents. It felt like a mystery dressing up and pretending to be something more action-packed than it should really have been, if that makes sense.

This review is a bit lame, namely because I read the book in the middle of the night, and also beacuse my brain is completely melted now that it’s the end of the Cambridge term. Hopefully my general points got across, though!

Rating: ***

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