The Mill for Grinding Old People Young – Glenn Patterson


  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber (15 Mar 2012)
  • Source - Library
  • My Rating – 5 stars
  • I wouldn’t have even heard about this novel if it hadn’t been our latest choice for our library reading group, so many thanks to Liz, our lovely librarian, for seeking out this gem of a story.  I had heard of  Glenn Patterson, a local author, who has written many novels set during and considering the impact of the Troubles in Northern Ireland but for some strange reason I hadn’t read any of these, preferring perhaps not to read about our painful past and instead reading about conflict in other distant countries.  Time to rectify that now!

    The Mill for Grinding Old People Young is narrated by Belfast man, Gilbert Rice, in 1897.  At the age of 85, his health is failing yet he has vivid memories of his youth in a rapidly changing city.  In the 1830s the city’s population was expanding rapidly in response to industrialisation and the influx of a vast new workforce.  Gilbert has had a relatively sheltered childhood, brought up by a strict but kindly grandfather, but he enters a new exciting world when he starts work at the Ballast Office at the Port of Belfast.  There is the constant fear of a cholera epidemic which leads to a wariness of foreigners.  There is a wide chasm between the landed gentry and the ordinary working folk although both like to indulge in a bit of gambling at cock-fights!  Gilbert makes his way through an ever changing world, making mistakes en route, growing up in a city which is also finding its feet.

    Written in an easy, accessible style, this intriguing novel opens a window on the past of a city which has constantly had to reinvent itself.   From the opening pages, you have a sense of Belfast as a living, breathing organism and there’s a lot of affection and humour from Gilbert as he takes you on a tour of a city in its heyday.  The author wears the weight of his historical research lightly and you absorb the atmosphere, soaking up the ambiance whether it be supping a pint or having a quick nap in the storeroom of the Ballast Office. 

    Anyway, how could you resist such an intriguing title or such a stunning cover??  This is the first time I have been accosted by a doctor in a waiting room….to ask what I was reading and I was delighted to recommend it wholeheartedly.

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    1. Melody says:

      You’re right, that cover is stunning! I’m not familiar with this author, but the premise sounds intriguing…I’ve put it on my wishlist. :)

    2. Charlie says:

      The cover is very nice. The setting and period is intriguing too, the way it impacted the different regions of UK and Ireland. Sounds fascinating!

    3. admin says:

      Charlie, it is an intriguing read. I initially thought I was perhaps a bit biased as I’ve spent most of my life in Belfast but I love reading about the history of folk in many different parts of the world so why should this not appeal to a wide audience…

    4. Ellie says:

      I love that title, I am always drawn to books with weird titles! I will keep an eye out for this one.

    5. Teresa says:

      Weird title and gorgeous cover, hard to resist, Ellie!

    6. admin says:

      Thanks for commenting, Melody. I will let you all know what the reading group made of it after our meeting next Thursday. Initial mutterings suggest it might have been a Marmite book – time will tell!

    7. Rosaleen says:

      Does anyone have any information on the Inn named in the title .Is it drawn from Glenn’s imagination or based on an actual Inn from the area ?

    8. admin says:

      Good question! Yes, it did exist and the following site provides lots of interesting information on local pubs and sites mentioned in the novel.

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