“I hadn’t time to know I was dying before I was dead. I went quare easy in the end, all the same.”
Leant this book by someone who assured me I’d love it. And she was right. It is a vital little whip-crack of a book, coming in at only 150 pages. Its a tight spiralling gallows-humoured slice of life on the West Coast of Ireland – Limerick, Galway, County Clare all get mentions.
With its mixed-up, multiple viewpoint narrative – Rashomon-style – each chapter is a different voice and they relay events as they see them. There is no ‘grand event’ they are discussing, at least not one that appears obvious at first. They are all just rabbiting on about their daily lives, and hang-ups and frustrations. And there is no way of knowing who is a reliable narrator. The pace is swift, darting about between the characters and the overlapping of the different bits of their own stories and also those of the other people living thereabouts. Thus incrementally building the novel.
Seanie: “Everyone thinks I’m a gas, that I don’t give a shit about anything. I never told anyone about the blackness I feel sometimes, weighing me down and making me think things I don’t want to think…I just can’t see for the blackness sometimes. It’s always there waiting for a chance to wrap itself around me…Sometimes I feel short of breath and my heart pounds and I feel a whooshing in my ears and I double over and put my head in my hands and a few times lately my hands have been wet with tears when I’ve taken them away from my face. No fucker knows that, though, nor never will. I’ll be grand in a while. I have no right to feel like this.“
Denis: “Are you robbing me? Bobby Mahon’s father wanted to know. He was pure matter of fact about it…His laugh made my eardrums vibrate, the way a child’s cry would. Go on away, you prick, there’s fuck all to rob here, Unless you like cornflakes. I have rakes of them. Is that what you’re at? Robbing cornflakes off of old men?“
I will most definitely be looking to read more by Ryan, and thankfully there appear to be 4 or 5 to chose from: the young man has obviously been busy.
How can you not love a book that opens: “My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down. He hasn’t yet missed a day of letting me down.”
(Winner of The Guardian First Book Award 2013)