Tuesday, February 23

We’re Not in the World by Conor O’Callaghan Review – Beckett on Wheels | Fiction


Conor O’Callaghan is an excellent Irish poet, author of half a dozen volumes, such as the brilliant Live broadcast (2017), which is a kind of compendium of what he describes as the “traumatic everyday”. He also writes prose, including non-fiction soccer memoirs. Red Mist: Roy Keane and the Irish World Cup Blues (2005) and Nothing on earth, her acclaimed first novel published in 2016. Like its predecessor, We are not in the The world is truly a poet’s novel. Consider this:

The loading door opens. It opens incrementally. Fall forward, away from us, on a foreign day. There are men down there, stevedores in high visibility and helmets yelling at each other. I turn the ignition halfway to check for signs of light. The instrument panel flashes and stops. There are chains. There are screeches of iron like the gates of hell. Then this fluorescence gradually floods the floor between rows and creeps towards us and feels warm.

If you don’t like the sound of all that good writing just to describe a guy driving his truck from a ferry, then We are not in the world it probably won’t be the novel for you, in which case, you would miss it. Elegant, clever, dense, and delightfully depressing through and through, the book tells the story of Paddy, who makes his way from England to France in a rather miserable and sad way. Paddy is accompanied on his journey, we are led to believe, by his twenty-something stowaway.

It’s a road trip, but not as you know it. The book constantly shifts from the present to the past, going from almost bizarre revelations of family secrets (“which we never mentioned”) to unpleasant encounters with untrustworthy old men, with many misjudged, inopportune and sometimes very disturbing sexual encounters. by the way. “His breath tasted of Colombian and citrus. You bit into the hard muscle of the stump of his tongue. He moaned ‘fuck’. You knew the blood, his, like battery acid on the tip of yours. ”In this literal and metaphorical journey, poor Paddy is“ gradually forced into the core of this nothingness that I feel more and more. ”It’s Beckett, on wheels.

Paddy’s family life is an absolute mess: his marriage is in shambles, there’s a steamy love story behind him, and he seems haunted and turned on by the memories of his mother, Kitty. His younger brother has turned out to be very successful and godfather to Paddy’s wild and rebellious daughter, also called, significantly, Kitty, and who likes to wear her grandmother’s mink coat. Paddy’s only refuge, and the promise of future happiness, is Tír na nÓg, the old family home on a pebble beach somewhere a bit sketchy and gloomy in Ireland. He is on the run and in the process of returning: to his country, to his family, and indeed to his sanity.

This is not an easy read, but it is an absolutely fascinating novel. It has nothing to do with the pandemic, and was presumably written before, but it is largely of the moment. O’Callaghan’s great themes in his poetry and prose are always related to frustrated desire, loss, feelings of disorientation, anger, and dissociation, and in particular to issues of sibling rivalry and the pain of being apart. of parents, of parents. children and oneself.

I have lived my entire adult life with this floor of underlying nostalgia. Not because of our mother, not because of the seascape we grew up in, not because of some mythical golden age. It’s more of a nostalgia born of absence […] It feels like certain diseases or functional syndromes should feel. A low-potency walking virus that you live with for decades and that you stop noticing, like the hum of a hangover in a refrigerator at dawn.

Sounds familiar? We are not in the world – the title alone – seems like a perfect description of where we are now. But whatever its current relevance or meaning, and whatever we learn about Kitty, the book shows page after page of memorable and haunting passages and episodes, as voices drift in and out, dedicated to “aimlessly remembering.” , “Ephemera thrown between you and me.” It is bitter, horrible, brilliant.

We Are Not in the World by Conor O’Callaghan is a Doubleday post (£ 14.99). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.

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