Saturday, 16 June 2018

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

I'm delighted to see this novel get the recognition it merits: Solar Bones by Mike McCormack has just won the International Dublin literary award. I read it last year on the back of a strong review in the Irish Times, and it's one of the very few books which I've turned around and read again as soon as I finished it (Austerlitz by W.G.Sebald being the only other in recent memory).

The recent reviews and indeed the blurb on the back of the paperback all give the reader a piece of information about the novel's main character and narrator which in my honest opinion you would be better off not knowing. I read it on my Kindle and didn't have this information , so I found the first half of the book a bit disorienting and eerie - it was wonderful!
I’ve lived in for nearly twenty-five years and raised a family, this house outside the village of Louisburgh in the county of Mayo on the west coast of Ireland, the village in which I can trace my seed and breed back to a time when it was nothing more than a ramshackle river crossing of a few smoky homesteads clustered around a forge and a log bridge, a sod-and-stone hamlet not yet gathered to a proper plan nor licensed to hold a fair, my line traceable to the gloomy prehistory in which a tenacious clan of farmers and fishermen kept their grip on a small patch of land
   through hail and gale
   hell and high water
men with bellies and short tempers, half of whom went to their graves with pains in their chests before they were sixty, good singers many of them
The other thing you'll hear in any review is that the book is written as one long sentence, which is factually true but misleading. There is a lot of punctuation, just no full stops, and there are obvious pauses and changes of perspective. The quality of the writing is of an uncommonly high standard in its tone and lyricism. It's not a difficult read, quite the contrary it's extremely engaging but demanding of your full attention.

The opening of the novel is pure poetry. In fact as I re-read it now it causes another poem to echo in my mind.
the bell
  the bell as
  hearing the bell as
    hearing the bell as standing here
    the bell being heard standing here
    hearing it ring out through the grey light of this
    morning, noon or night
    god knows
    this grey day standing here and
    listening to this bell in the middle of the day,
 the middle of the day bell, the Angelus bell in the middle of the day
The sounds and repetitions in those opening lines reminds me of the last poem written by Samuel Beckett "What is the word" 
folly –
folly for to –
for to –
what is the word –
folly from this –
all this –
folly from all this –
given –
folly given all this –
seeing –
folly seeing all this –
this –
what is the word –
this this –
this this here –
Hmm, is there a connection with Beckett? I think I'll have to read it again... 

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