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Articles and Reviews: BOOKS
By William Wall
This is the first novel by an extensively published
and award-winning poet and short story writer. It is doing something
which badly needs to be done: giving the lie to the cosy consensus
and public relations hype that everything in the New Ireland we
hear so much about these days is fine and dandy. Rather, it boldly
exposes the human cost of increased economic opportunities and material
prosperity. That said, it is not a didactic tract, but does this
by concentrating on telling the stories of a number of intertwined
individual lives. Besides, anyone with Wall’s language skills, his
ability to turn a phrase or capture an appropriate image, could
not be accused of producing mere sociology.
Set in contemporary Cork, the narrative ebbs and
flows impressionistically, between past and present, and first person
and third person, as it slowly reveals the connections and disjunctions
between the wide cast of characters. There’s Alice Lynch herself,
of the title, who is haunted by memories of sexual abuse at the
hands of parish priest Fr Bennis, which occurred when she was a
vulnerable teenager whose father had died. She’s married to Paddy,
a wheeler-dealer who runs his own software company, drives a Merc,
and has share issues floating on the stock exchange. He married
her because she reminded him of her elder sister, whom he used to
go out with, but who died in a car crash. She married him to get
away from her home, and from Bennis. She’s having a desultory affair
with John, a postgraduate philosophy student. Paddy’s having a non-ritualistic
sado-masochistic thing with Sandy, a chronic pain sufferer who works
in the local art gallery. It’s run by Billy Cleary, her gay friend.
Then there’s Mick, former county hurling champion who now works
in insurance. He’s married to the highly unstable Nora, an old flame
of Paddy’s, who confides her suicidal state of mind to John, who
can’t help her. The are minor turns from Tim Bredin, a mercenary
local artist who exhibits at the gallery, and Hennessy, who is what
euphemistically used to be called, and still is in certain quarters
for all I know, the ‘family’ doctor.
But this is not just another journey into idle,
well-heeled, suburban adultery. It grapples head-on with the noxious
underbelly of hurt, pain, anger, greed and hate which persists beneath
respectable facades. From the opening scene, we know we’re in for
a journey to the end of the night. Alice and John wake in his flat,
to the sound of a car horn blowing outside, at five thirty in the
The dawn belongs to lovers, and their early morning
within his dispensation. God is a milkman, waving
pale young men and women elated by their first
taste of beauty,
going home to cold flats and empty houses. The
Merc is evil.
That could be Paddy down there, foot-tapping the
poised on the horn. Blow, Paddy, blow. Wake the
their beds. Wake the old men from their hard-won
old women tossing in their pain, wake the children
watery day. This is your world. The lovers will
Sooner or later there will be a man in a suit.
A banker. A lawyer.
A priest. A planning officer. All good things
come to an end,
they say. Let’s face reality - decent profit,
The hegemony of the club tie. Face up to it. And
the lovers, the
old men, the women in their dressing gowns put
out the empties
and take in the new milk, and they are powerless.
God the Milkman
comes in the night and the only sign is the renewal
of day. The man
in the Merc rules the world.
Of course, it turns out it is Paddy blowing his
horn, after all.
Although not very plot-driven, the book does reach
a devastating conclusion. Even the by now stock character of the
abusive priest is excellently executed, his remembered wheedling
in Alice’s mind hitting home. If, as William Gass wrote in his introduction
to William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, the business of the
novelist is ‘seeing through’, then William Wall has done his job
effectively here. It is a story of the disaffection which sets in,
after whatever idealism there may have been throughout late adolescent
college years, in the search for emotional and financial security.
It is populated by manipulators and the manipulated, exploiters
and the exploited, abusers and the abused. But the roles are interchangeable,
as victims become abusers, and abusers victims.
This is an important debut novel, by someone who
could well go on to become an important novelist. It may not have
the promotional budget of some more high profile recently published
Irish novels, but that should not deter you from seeking it out
and reading it.
First published in Books Ireland