Eilís Dillon
The Bitter Glass

Hostile Reviews

Humor Creeps In

It must be said to Miss Dillon's credit that she manages to create a vivid backdrop for her story in the remoteness of the Connemara country, in the picture of its people, in the women who bring counsel to the young folks in the dilemma, in the ritual of a wake and even in the age-old traditional humor that manages to creep into most serious situations.

On the other hand, the plot of "The Bitter Glass" is lacking in either substance or movement. The only genuine suspense is the question of whether or not little Paul will recover and this question is stretched for the entire length of the book. Indeed a kind of static feeling seems to shackle the whole narative despite the author's talent for realistic writing. But the brooding picture of Connemara, done with feeling and sensitivity, is what the reader will take from "The Bitter Glass".

From "Dublin in Time of 'Troubles'", by Elizabeth Cade, in the Philadelphia Enquirer


I think it would be correct to describe this book as a simple tale for simple adults. It's a slow-moving book, the writing is not concentrated, the author has always time to describe the wallpaper of a room and other matters which do not bring the story further. In "The Bitter Glass" she concerns herself mostly with the way in which half-a-dozen boys and girls in their late teens and early twenties react to one another under the pressure of personal relationships and the events larger than themselves which press in upon tham. In spite of the paucity of action the story is well and adequately told, and there's an occasional bright and memorable phrase, as when the writer speaks of a carpet as being "bald with age". The best thing in the book is a fine description of a Connemara wake. There's a great deal too much near-hysteria in the pages for my liking; but then, in the author's defence, it must be admitted that she's dealing with characters who are immature people. She certainly writes with skill, and an example of this is the remarkable way in which, three-quarters way through the book, the whole story is stolen by a six months old baby who does not, as a character really exist at all, until his sudden death shocks the reader. I should like to see Miss Dillon in her next book exploring greater depths and seizing on her story with greater vigour. The skill in writing which she undoubtedly has, is not quite enough.

Mervyn Wall, Radio Éireann broadcast


As in her detective stories, the scene of this novel by Eilís Dillon is laid in the west of Ireland, west Connemara, to be precise. The period is during the Civil War and, although that tragedy in Irish history is used only as "noises off", the author faithfully recaptures the atmosphere of the time.

The plot, if indeed such can be said to exist, is thin, and the book is more of a study in psychology than a novel. It is, nevertheless, quite readable throughout, although there is nothing in it that will leave a lasting impression. The characters are by no means clear cut, and one sees them as if through the "mists that do be on the bog".

For one reared in the west there is no excuse for the author's patronising approach to the "natives". Neither is there any justification for the insinuations against members of the medical profession in that area. In this respect one is prompted to inquire if Miss Dillon ever heard the old proverb in the west which says, "It is a foolish ass indeed which eats its own straddle mat".

"A Novel of the West", by J.M.K., in the Irish Independent

Eilís Dillon herself was highly amused by this review, and often quoted the last phrase in conversation.

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