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Staring at Lakes: A Memoir of Love, Melancholy and Magical Thinking

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Winner of the Irish Book Awards' National Book Tokens' Non-Fiction Book of the Year and The John Murray Show Listeners' Choice Award, a candid memoir of a middle-aged man on the verge of disaster—and how love brings him back from the brink Michael Harding gives a brutally honest and beautifully written account of his journey through life, and his failed attempts to find mea Winner of the Irish Book Awards' National Book Tokens' Non-Fiction Book of the Year and The John Murray Show Listeners' Choice Award, a candid memoir of a middle-aged man on the verge of disaster—and how love brings him back from the brink Michael Harding gives a brutally honest and beautifully written account of his journey through life, and his failed attempts to find meaning which brought about a long period of depression. But this is a love story and Michael comes to realize that all things are sustained by love and this is where real meaning resides.


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Winner of the Irish Book Awards' National Book Tokens' Non-Fiction Book of the Year and The John Murray Show Listeners' Choice Award, a candid memoir of a middle-aged man on the verge of disaster—and how love brings him back from the brink Michael Harding gives a brutally honest and beautifully written account of his journey through life, and his failed attempts to find mea Winner of the Irish Book Awards' National Book Tokens' Non-Fiction Book of the Year and The John Murray Show Listeners' Choice Award, a candid memoir of a middle-aged man on the verge of disaster—and how love brings him back from the brink Michael Harding gives a brutally honest and beautifully written account of his journey through life, and his failed attempts to find meaning which brought about a long period of depression. But this is a love story and Michael comes to realize that all things are sustained by love and this is where real meaning resides.

30 review for Staring at Lakes: A Memoir of Love, Melancholy and Magical Thinking

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gearóid

    An audio book read by the author himself. Such a great voice and so natural hearing him read his own story. He is so honest and open about his life experiences. Very interesting and dark in parts but tells it as it is.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Frank Parker

    At the end of the first week in November we have a rather grandly titled Literary Festival in my home county. I say “grandly” because, unlike other such events which span a full week or at least a whole weekend, this one starts on Friday night and runs through Saturday. The best thing about it, however, is its geographical spread with events in several of the county’s smaller towns as well as the county town. The opening event on the Friday night was an evening of readings and music in my local l At the end of the first week in November we have a rather grandly titled Literary Festival in my home county. I say “grandly” because, unlike other such events which span a full week or at least a whole weekend, this one starts on Friday night and runs through Saturday. The best thing about it, however, is its geographical spread with events in several of the county’s smaller towns as well as the county town. The opening event on the Friday night was an evening of readings and music in my local library. Michael Harding had star billing for that event. His reading from Staring at Lakes was a stunning performance. That it was so much more than the usual reading would not have surprised me had I known as much about the man as I now do. He trained for the priesthood. His practice in that profession included the writing and delivery of sermons. He has written and acted in plays. Public performance is second nature to him. He does it well. A significant portion of the book tells of how he became ill whilst touring a one-man show which he wrote and produced. It was during this physical illness that he became aware that he had been suffering from depression for most of his life and the book provides an eloquent and often moving account of that mental illness and its treatment. But it also has much to say about religion; not just Catholicism and his disillusion with the Church, but Buddhism with which he became enamoured in his thirties. Several chapters deal with a journey that has all the hallmarks of pilgrimage. Harding does not use that word. He doesn’t need to; his descriptions of the places he visited and the people with whom he shared the experience is enough. There are elegiac passages about parenthood and the passing of friends and relatives. But, though the underlying theme is the spiritual and mental loneliness of depression there are many moments that made me laugh, just as I laughed during his performance in our local library. Harding’s mastery of humour, his ability to see the funny side of even the most tragic of events, make his insights all the more illuminating for the reader. I can unhesitatingly recommend this book. It is a deserving winner of the Bord Gais Energy Irish non-fiction Book of the Year award and should go on to win many more accolades. PS the same event last year (November 2012)included Niamh Boyce reading from "The Herbalist". She lives in the next village and won best newcomer in this years awards. Am I not privileged to live in such a place? C S Lewis' birth place is just down the road.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vanda Bromwich

    This was given to me to read by a friend. I found it a rather boring book -I just wanted to shout at him to realise that he was not the only person on the earth. I know this was a memoir written by a depressive, but he was just so self centred, no wonder he was so depressed.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Adrian White

    'Sorrow' by The National Sorrow found me when I was young, Sorrow waited, sorrow won. Sorrow that put me on the pills, It's in my honey it's in my milk. Don't leave my hyper heart below On the water, Cover me in rag and bones, sympathy. Cause I don't wanna get over you. I don't wanna get over you. Sorrow's my body on the waves Sorrow's a girl inside my cave I live in a city sorrow built It's in my honey, it's in my milk. Don't leave my half a heart alone, On the water, Cover me in rag and bones, sympathy. Cause 'Sorrow' by The National Sorrow found me when I was young, Sorrow waited, sorrow won. Sorrow that put me on the pills, It's in my honey it's in my milk. Don't leave my hyper heart below On the water, Cover me in rag and bones, sympathy. Cause I don't wanna get over you. I don't wanna get over you. Sorrow's my body on the waves Sorrow's a girl inside my cave I live in a city sorrow built It's in my honey, it's in my milk. Don't leave my half a heart alone, On the water, Cover me in rag and bones, sympathy. Cause I don't wanna get over you. I don't wanna get over you.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Heelqueen

    I don't know what possessed me to read this book because even the back of it didn't really appeal me me. This book is a memoir of a man who's remembering his life and all the highs and lows of it. Mainly it's just pages and pages of him harping on about every mineute detail that has ever happened in his life. Seriously BORNING read I don't know what possessed me to read this book because even the back of it didn't really appeal me me. This book is a memoir of a man who's remembering his life and all the highs and lows of it. Mainly it's just pages and pages of him harping on about every mineute detail that has ever happened in his life. Seriously BORNING read

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mary Mcgrath

    It's the nature of the book to be introspective but have to say I found it self indulgent. While some passages were lovely in their descriptions and character portrayals , it was also repetitive. Is the lusting after young women an insight into the male psyche or a reflection on writers mid life crisis? It's the nature of the book to be introspective but have to say I found it self indulgent. While some passages were lovely in their descriptions and character portrayals , it was also repetitive. Is the lusting after young women an insight into the male psyche or a reflection on writers mid life crisis?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cliona Kearney

    This book is beautifully written and offers a real insight into depression. It is not formally structured but rambles along to the end when the various strands of the story are pulled together. Really enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down. This book is beautifully written and offers a real insight into depression. It is not formally structured but rambles along to the end when the various strands of the story are pulled together. Really enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Monica Flynn

    Loved this. A very humbling and ultimately joyful account of coming to terms with oneself and depression. The darkness giving way to pleasure in small things. Good for the soul.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Flynn

    Well written. It took courage to write about his depression and other illness he suffered, colitis , times spent in his room. Also the priesthood.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paula Scollan

    Lots to talk about and much to admire. There is an honestly to Harding's writing that I like. He doesn't shy away from things. A rich, searching and enthralling book. A pot of emotions. Lots to talk about and much to admire. There is an honestly to Harding's writing that I like. He doesn't shy away from things. A rich, searching and enthralling book. A pot of emotions.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Aisling

    Gread insight into depression and the inner life of an author. Beautifully written book and a tribute to the human spirit.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ken Mannion

    I really enjoyed this book. A great self reflection on his journey through life. Like his weekly article in the Irish Times, it also contains plenty of humorous moments.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Roisin Meaney

    Great. Easy to read, compelling, original. Timeline a bit confusing at times, but overall really enjoyed it. Would like to have dinner with Michael Harding.

  14. 4 out of 5

    S.L. Beaumont

    This was a book club read for me. I am not big on self indulgent memoirs, although this was beautifully written. I guess I was left feeling rather melancholy.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mairead

    Loved the courage and humour in this book. I wish you every happiness in your future, Michael Harding. Your willingness to light the way for others is much appreciated.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer B.

    Ugh. I'm reluctant to really write the ugly truth of what I thought about this book, seeing as it's a memoir, written by a human being about his own self, and not a character or a story that can be critiqued without attacking the author. I saw the mixed reviews, but I thought I'd give it a chance. After all, I enjoy memoirs, and they usually have a lot to teach us about how other folks live and cope. As a person with first hand depression experience, that was also a draw, to see how this man deal Ugh. I'm reluctant to really write the ugly truth of what I thought about this book, seeing as it's a memoir, written by a human being about his own self, and not a character or a story that can be critiqued without attacking the author. I saw the mixed reviews, but I thought I'd give it a chance. After all, I enjoy memoirs, and they usually have a lot to teach us about how other folks live and cope. As a person with first hand depression experience, that was also a draw, to see how this man deals with it, and what wisdom he could offer. Firstly I'll say that it's a fast read. The font used makes this practically a large print book. Also, it's not heavy reading, despite what you'd presume. So, there's the positive part of my review. That's really all I can say without delving into the negative and why I really didn't enjoy this book. I didn't even like the writing style. He kept zigzagging in time, and it didn't work. I don't mind time hopping in books even if it's hard to keep up, but that wasn't the issue here. It was just a matter of "oh God, are we HERE again? Didn't you already beat this dead horse?" There were paragraphs, even pages that I read and thought "didn't I just read this?" Again, I've no problem with these devices when used well, but it was not the case here. As for the "beautiful", "funny", and "sad" moments I was hoping to savor, zilch. Sure, this guy had some disappointments in his life, and that's sad. He made some jokes but I didn't laugh, not even inside. He tried to wax poetic on the inevitable futilities of life, but I'd heard them all before. They were trite. Maybe it's not his fault. Maybe I've read too many books and think too much myself. But I've the feeling if I had to spend more than 30 minutes in a room with this guy I'd have heard everything he's ever thought and I'd be the one depressed. In fact, I don't think he even really suffered from depression. He's just bad at life. That and he has his head rammed so far up his arse that he can see out the other side.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anne McLoughlin

    A beautifully written and honest memoir. He bares his soul, something that takes a lot of courage to do, and gives the bad with the moments of good. Wonderful cameos of his encounters with people throughout the book and at times being jolted out of his depression by observations of other humans. As a priest - how he'd ignored the old woman he saw every morning until she disappeared and was found drowned - thereby wakening him up to the necessity for more involvement with his parishioners. Bridge A beautifully written and honest memoir. He bares his soul, something that takes a lot of courage to do, and gives the bad with the moments of good. Wonderful cameos of his encounters with people throughout the book and at times being jolted out of his depression by observations of other humans. As a priest - how he'd ignored the old woman he saw every morning until she disappeared and was found drowned - thereby wakening him up to the necessity for more involvement with his parishioners. Bridget, the old woman in the mountain cottage, and her husband in a wheelchair in hospital..... her memories of her love for him when she met him. Sometimes I wondered if the depression caused his drunkenness and lack of any sense of responsibility towards others or if it was because of this behaviour that he became depressed. I loved the book and the sometimes lyrical descriptions, although how he managed to make Mullingar sound like the most exciting place in the world I'd have to question. I've knocked off one star because there were times I wanted to give him a kick up the arse - however, a wonderful book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kiril

    This book switches between different episodes of the author's life, most of which are quite beautifully described. Overall, there is little magical thinking happening, rather a careful optimism after the author overcomes terrible phases of depression and suffering. I do wonder if the author managed to recover without the help of anti-depressants, as he describes bad spells of debilitating depression, but also describes how on one occasion he was offered anti-depressants, which he refused to take This book switches between different episodes of the author's life, most of which are quite beautifully described. Overall, there is little magical thinking happening, rather a careful optimism after the author overcomes terrible phases of depression and suffering. I do wonder if the author managed to recover without the help of anti-depressants, as he describes bad spells of debilitating depression, but also describes how on one occasion he was offered anti-depressants, which he refused to take.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ann-Marie Ng

    very frustrating as the author's maddeningly self involved (but maybe that's the point, that depressed people frustrate) and his insights aren't particularly great or deep either. just full of emotions and even more emotions (not uplifting ones though) very frustrating as the author's maddeningly self involved (but maybe that's the point, that depressed people frustrate) and his insights aren't particularly great or deep either. just full of emotions and even more emotions (not uplifting ones though)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth Bissett

    Quite heavy at times very enjoyable though

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    very good read about a man's trouble with his girlfriend/wife and reflections on life. very good read about a man's trouble with his girlfriend/wife and reflections on life.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shane Campion

    A profound read, thought provoking and uniquely Irish. Leaves you thinking about life and what's important to the individual. A profound read, thought provoking and uniquely Irish. Leaves you thinking about life and what's important to the individual.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Paul Downes

    I laughed, I cried. What more do you want in a book?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bernadette

    Love, love, love this book❤️

  25. 5 out of 5

    U. Cronin

    Michael Harding's words droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. His style is unforced, uncomplicated, almost egoless, but the prose is as immaculate and polished as a crown princess's engagement ring. There is a beauty and a truth contained within the pages of Staring at Lakes that can break your heart one moment and lift you up to the foothills of heaven the next. What's the book about? Life. Not just Michael Harding's, but everyone's. We all suffer vanities and delusions, have our bubbles burs Michael Harding's words droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. His style is unforced, uncomplicated, almost egoless, but the prose is as immaculate and polished as a crown princess's engagement ring. There is a beauty and a truth contained within the pages of Staring at Lakes that can break your heart one moment and lift you up to the foothills of heaven the next. What's the book about? Life. Not just Michael Harding's, but everyone's. We all suffer vanities and delusions, have our bubbles burst, face the deaths of parents, the growing up of children, lost loves, conquests, insecurities, triumphs regrets. Michael lays it all out for us, always turning events around to show up his (and our) own foolishness and lack of wisdom. To say the book is frank and searingly honest would do it a disservice: the author digs with archeological patients among the ruins of memories and impressions for a truth that is dazzling and universal. It's not a linear autobiography. This is not some footballer's latest ghostwritten tome that splutters from A to B. This is the long way round from one of Ireland's greatest diarists and thinkers. Michael Harding brings us from one node of significance to the next and sometimes back around again. There are no huge achievements chronicled, just the steppingstones along a life marked like all of ours with human emotion and endeavor. Sitting in the kitchen watching a man put in a stove is given as much importance and rendered with as much kindly detail as a trip across Mongolia. For the author everything lacks importance while at the same time holding incalculable significance. Great themes here are: the search for contentment; religion and religious doubt and disillusionment; love and partnership; the aging of body and mind; ill health; regret; fear of growing old and death; depression. This is a book to learn from, to read attentively and slowly, and to reflect upon when one is away from it. Michael Harding gets inside your head with his lore of how to live and face up to being frail and flawed and human. His way of thinking permeates you and when you're washing the dishes you're thinking of some the characters he exposes in the book or some of the many anecdotes and alegories. Staring at Lakes should be required reading for everyone who has left the full flush of youth behind, and should say on the cover Will Change Your Life!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ally

    So, this book. I'm not really sure what to think of it. I often feel guilty or wrong if I read a memoir and end up disliking it. Who am I to judge a work recounting someones life? However, I still think there is a way for those writing memoirs to engage the reader and make themselves relatable, even if the reader has not had similar experiences. Staring at Lakes didn't do this for me. I've been on a bit of a memoir craze for the past while, and have read some absolutely fantastic books depicting So, this book. I'm not really sure what to think of it. I often feel guilty or wrong if I read a memoir and end up disliking it. Who am I to judge a work recounting someones life? However, I still think there is a way for those writing memoirs to engage the reader and make themselves relatable, even if the reader has not had similar experiences. Staring at Lakes didn't do this for me. I've been on a bit of a memoir craze for the past while, and have read some absolutely fantastic books depicting women who have suffered from mental illness and eating disorders. Thankfully, I have never had to grapple with either of these issues, but I still found these books engaging and easily found myself relating to the characters. Possibly, I found it difficult to sympathize with Michael Harding because he is a male. I don't know. But I do know that I felt disengaged from the story, and almost annoyed with the man for being so self-centred and selfish. I've read a ton of memoirs about depression and not once did I have this sort of reaction to a character experiencing it. I read this book for a book club I'm currently taking part in in Ireland. I found the book mildly interesting, only because it takes place in Ireland and I could identify with many of the places Harding visited. Other than that, this book, unfortunately, just isn't up my alley. 2.5 stars

  27. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    I was a bit disappointed that this book didn't live up to my expectations. Three Bord Gáis awards is pretty impressive but maybe this just isn't my kind of book. It felt a bit self-indulgent and dreary. Michael suffers from depression but bravely carries on working through it, travelling around the country with a one man show doped up on medication and getting back into his bed in a darkened room as quickly as possible till the next show is on. There were some passages I really liked, like the o I was a bit disappointed that this book didn't live up to my expectations. Three Bord Gáis awards is pretty impressive but maybe this just isn't my kind of book. It felt a bit self-indulgent and dreary. Michael suffers from depression but bravely carries on working through it, travelling around the country with a one man show doped up on medication and getting back into his bed in a darkened room as quickly as possible till the next show is on. There were some passages I really liked, like the one about the dishwasher. He left his wife because they could not agree on the best way to fill it. Small dramas like this can become big issues for couples. Also the part about his daughter's pony and when the time came to sell him to another 'princess' was beautifully written. His description of the Celtic Tiger hitting Mullingar was well done too. Some parts were told a few times over as if the book was made up of individual pieces patched together. That felt a bit unnecessary. For most of the book, his wife is referred to as 'the artist','the dark-haired woman' or 'lady in the amber sari or 'my lady wife' or 'my beloved'. This makes the author sound separate and apart from her and his daughter. I'd like to rate it 2.5/5 if I was allowed. I think Goodreads should adjust their rating system to allow half stars.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sally45

    Well done Michael Harding. I knew he lived in the “hills above Lough Allen”, which is where I was born and reared, but I had never got around to reading any of his writing. I have read all John Mc Gahern and Brian Leyden also from this area but had given up Irish writers a long time ago. Then I read Michael Harding’s story in the Irish Times - the lights go out on another solitary country life and I was smitten. My opinion on Staring at Lakes – incredible. To be honest, I never thought I would e Well done Michael Harding. I knew he lived in the “hills above Lough Allen”, which is where I was born and reared, but I had never got around to reading any of his writing. I have read all John Mc Gahern and Brian Leyden also from this area but had given up Irish writers a long time ago. Then I read Michael Harding’s story in the Irish Times - the lights go out on another solitary country life and I was smitten. My opinion on Staring at Lakes – incredible. To be honest, I never thought I would enjoy a book about a depressed ex priest but I loved it. I read it in 4 days, but savoured the beautiful writing and that is unusual for me as I have not read a book for ages. It’s a nice light and at times laugh out loud funny read. Certainly the bit about the phone call to the Bangalore customer support line when his iPod broke down left me with tears of laughter. The book was so honest – the dog farting –– the depression – the colitis - the Author’s thoughts of past failures even the dishwasher struggle, but as he wrote these words they were never dark, John Mc Gahern was dark but Michael Harding is not. One criticism of the book though, the story was all over the place, but then so was his mind as he was on a personal journey and it happened over many years. I will certainly be reading more of his books.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Martin McGovern

    I'm surprised that this book has no reviews yet. Staring at Lakes won several awards in Ireland in 2013 and is a really good read. Very direct writing style Harding doesn't hold back and is brutally honest about many of the events in his life. Depression, love, marriage are big themes of the book. Some of the writing can be a bit disarming because it is so direct. He has an interesting relationship with his partner, they seem quite happy to spend time apart and do their own things. His visit to I'm surprised that this book has no reviews yet. Staring at Lakes won several awards in Ireland in 2013 and is a really good read. Very direct writing style Harding doesn't hold back and is brutally honest about many of the events in his life. Depression, love, marriage are big themes of the book. Some of the writing can be a bit disarming because it is so direct. He has an interesting relationship with his partner, they seem quite happy to spend time apart and do their own things. His visit to the Buddhist retreat is the most interesting and his description of the countryside and the people is very engaging. The final chapters deal with his love for this mother and are very emotional. Though Harding seems pretty emotional throughout his life, he seems to be in tears a lot of the time. But he deals with the difficulties of depression very adeptly and the story has a positive outlook at the end. All in all it is a very enjoyable read. The chapters fly by. I would recommend it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    This author's soul-search is so poetic and sincere, that it feels like a true privilege to be invited along the journey with him. An honest man with a very philosophical and sympathetic mind is unraveling the meaning behind his own experiences in life and the reasonings behind his personal passions. And unashamedly, he lets us in. It's impossible not to cry with him when things make no sense. And likewise, it's hard not to cry laughing when the banality of shopping for a salad bowl becomes the m This author's soul-search is so poetic and sincere, that it feels like a true privilege to be invited along the journey with him. An honest man with a very philosophical and sympathetic mind is unraveling the meaning behind his own experiences in life and the reasonings behind his personal passions. And unashamedly, he lets us in. It's impossible not to cry with him when things make no sense. And likewise, it's hard not to cry laughing when the banality of shopping for a salad bowl becomes the mission of his afternoon in Mullingar. This book is stunningly open, yet we bear witness to the shame he finds in being human. It is full of love and compassion, yet we bear witness to the horrors and bleakness of his depression. He exposes all - for that it is impossible not to thank him for sharing all. You'll be a richer individual having shared this journey with Michael Harding.

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