Song of Duiske by Michael J. Ryan is not a new book. First published in 1989 and with a revised version in 2006 it is one of those books that seems to have passed under the radar. And that is a shame, because it is a very satisfying little read. I say little because that's just what it is. At just 52 pages in five chapters; Dark, Seed, Earth, Harvest and Home, it is a novella.
The cover design might have put off potential readers -it looks a little like a church prayer or hymn book with its woodcut manuscript miniature of monks on a vellum background that could be much more glossy and 'Name of the Rose'-ish. Despite this, it is worth the read and it could become one of those little treasures you think about a lot after reading , recommend it to others and read again yourself.
With a historical note about the Cistercian abbeys of Ireland and the location of Duiske in South Leinster, the story takes place in the early fourteenth century following the monks in their cycle of life. The atmosphere of the abbey; the bare stone, the cold early mornings, the candlelight and shuffling of monks feet is immediately set.
The reader is with the brothers as they go about their daily tasks of morning prayers, the work on the watermill, tending the fruit crops.We are made privy to the seasons changes in the Abbey and the jobs the monks undertakes, the little breaks in the Abbey rules that went unnoticed, the illicit liaisons and we quickly get to know the monks. On a trip to find wood for masts Brothers Simon and Orion meet a group of men with a tall red-haired leader and Simon considers that this is "when their day had begun to slip from their grasp" and he realises that he could be considered an accessory to a crime.
Ryan has researched the historical and geographical facts to produce this novella,and a glossary is provided to explain some of the medieval and Latin terms used which adds an authenticity to the tale. This little treasure is a bedside companion and with a newly designed eye-catching cover it could make its way to become a classic Irish tale.