Last week Irish women from around the world boarded planes and ferries in an attempt to go home and vote in a referendum that amended to Irish constitution to decriminalise abortion. As you know by now, they won. The images of Irish women, thankful for and celebrating their autonomy, their freedom hit close to home. It came on the back of discussion both there and in Australia about the ways in which the Catholic Church perpetuated systems of violence and oppression, particularly against women. (I’m comfortable discussing this oppression having been raised and educated in Catholic institutions. We discuss our own history). I had read Dervla McTiernan’s The Rúin a little while ago, but hadn’t quite found the lens through which I could explore it, but now I can: this is a crime novel that explores the ways in which shame and expectation haunt communities and individuals.
The book explores cultures of shame and violence that arise in response to Ireland’s regulation of women’s sexual autonomy. Following the disappearance and death of a young man your standard police officer getting close to retirement find that there is a relationship between this case and an unsolved case from twenty year prior. The crimes helix around each other, but the story’s true loci are the women who surround this young man. The circular imagery, the ways in which these women move through past, present and future, like the sworls and eddies in a river are what gives the story its impetus. They are bean na sídhe and caoineadh all at once. Ultimately the story revolves around the ways in which violences exercised against women are also experienced by men, it provides a lens through which to explore the ways in which patriarchy hurts everyone, without hierarchialising that hurt.