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One Day As A Tiger

By Anne Haverty
Published by Chatto & Windus

Of the three books by young women writers under review here, Anne Haverty’s debut novel is far and away the best of the bunch. It concerns a man living in the shadow of his more kindly and well-adjusted brother, his romantic attachment to that brother’s wife, and the feelings, which he shares with this woman, for a mutant sheep, a mutual interest which helps to bring them together and cement their relationship.
Clever young historian Martin Hawkins throws over his promising career at Trinity College and returns to the family sheep farm in Tipperary to brood on his own past instead, most notably the deaths of his parents and his failed romances. At odds with his conscientious brother Pierce, and with the country folk who are more worldly-wise than he is, and perceive him as a shiftless soul with his head in the clouds who has deserted his own calling, he is also furtively in love with Pierce’s restive wife, Etti, and harbours strange convictions about the genetically engineered lamb he calls Missy.

 

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Missy is one of a flock that has been ‘improved’ with human genes. Pitiful, infinitely touching, surely unsheep-like, maybe even half-human, Missy figures significantly in Martin’s imagination. When Etti too comes to regard Missy with the same tenderness and empathy, she and Martin embark on a reckless and terrible adventure, which involves a doomed attempt to deliver Missy to Brigitte Bardot’s animal sanctuary in Provence, where they think she will be properly looked after. But will the adulterated animal that is Missy find a place in the affections of the former sex-kitten, given her jaundiced view of humanity?
If this all sounds ridiculously far-fetched, it is, but such is Haverty’s skill that she manages to make the most strange and surreal of situations seem almost normal and quotidian. (A few years ago this modus operandi was termed ‘magic realism’, and was much favoured by Eastern European and South American writers.) Despite the apparently whimsical storyline, all the big themes are present here: love, hate, betrayal; death, bereavement, grief. The nature/culture opposition that is united in Missy is a metamorphosis as worthy of Ovid as it is of Kafka, with a dash of science fiction (or, indeed, science fact) thrown in for good measure. Haverty is also to be congratulated on pulling off the difficult imaginative feat of writing this first-person narrative in the voice of a male character, making it believable, and exploring the motivations towards misogyny without being judgmental or prescriptive. The evocation of rural life, both Irish and French, is brilliant, with moments of great beauty and passages of deep despair, and there is a subtle humour that cuts through the tragic pull of the story, placing it in the best Irish tragicomic tradition. The only other young Irish writer I can think of capable of such inventive accomplishments is Mike McCormick, whose first collection of short stories, Getting It In The Head, published last year, should be on everybody’s reading list.
In a world of fakes, Anne Haverty is the real thing: a writer who can write, with a faultless style that matches a thought-provoking story. Her next move will be watched, by me at least, with the keenest attention.

First published in The World of Hibernia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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