Ollie Ewing has returned to his native
Sligo from London and is ‘lying low’, living
at the top of a rundown house with some art students
at the Regional Technical College. By day, he works
as a trolley-boy and shelf-stacker in a local supermarket,
by night, he tries to dodge his recurrent nightmares.
These centre almost exclusively, and hardly surprisingly,
on the scarifying events which took place when he was
a navvy in London, living in a mobile home on a vacant
lot with his best friend from the old country, Marty.
The intimacy you once had with someone
is hard to forget at the beginning. It returns stronger
than ever before.
I would say I was not right in the
High all the time on sorrow, and low
because of what you
think is being said about you.
It all came back. The worst thing
is I turned religious. That can happen the best of us.
I walked to the window in the hostel and looked out
at the monastery that had not been inhabited in over
two centuries. In my head I heard beautiful psalms.
This need of mine for God is a travesty. The traveller
wanted to speak of Aristotle and I wanted to speak of
St Paul. You’ll get that. You push too much onto
Marty wound up murdered through his
involvement as a foot-soldier with a sinister protection
racket run by the devious and ruthless Silver John and
Scots Bob, who are ostensibly site foremen. Ollie found
Marty dead in the back of his lorry, after the later
had gone off on a ‘business’ trip to Manchester.
At least, he believes it was Marty, since the fact that
the body was doused with acid made identification difficult.
Then Ollie’s brother, Redmond, died of severe
burns after a fight with Scots bob. The whole thing
climaxes in a count room cross-examination, which demonstrates
the prejudices and power structures inscribed in legal
rhetoric and practices, and has left Ollie even more
The fact that we get the second half
of the story first, back in Sligo, before moving back
in time to events in London for the second half of the
book, invites immediate re-reading, as did Healy’s
previous novel, A Goat’s Song. It’s
a clever narrative strategy, as it withholds explanatory
information until its revelation will have most impact,
and makes earlier sections clearer second time around.
With his central acting role in Nicola
Bruce’s extraordinary film of Irish emigrant life
in London, I Could Read The Sky, and his recent
direction of Samuel Beckett’s play Footfalls,
to say nothing of his founding and long-time editing
of Force 10 magazine, there would seem to be
no end to Healy’s talents and energy. Let’s
hope he keeps up this level of creativity, for Sudden
Times is a worthy addition to an already impressive
body of work.
First published in Books Ireland