Irish Times Malarky review
Firstly, thank you to the Irish Times for reviewing Malarky. Secondly, thank you to the Irish Times for handing it to the mighty Éilís Ní Dhuibhne for review. Thirdly, thank you to Éilís for her labour on such a thoughtful, warm, hopeful review. I’ve long admired Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s work and would encourage all readers to engage with her body of short stories, novels, non-fiction and Irish language works. Her contribution to Irish literature is an important one.
Here’s the last paragraph of the review (click to read): “..Anakana Schofield is in the ranks of the best. She weaves her words well and demonstrates many of the gifts that the novelist has to own. This novel is deeper and more thoughtful than it seems. Clever, witty, imaginative and intriguing, Malarky is a stunning debut from an exceptionally good writer.”
I’ll add my comments on some of the points raised forthwith, especially that of place.
From the review..
“The elimination of physical setting is a feature of much of this voice-based writing: characters interact in places that could be almost anywhere, were it not for the funny way they talk. They operate on an empty stage, without the sky or the fields, or any of that rich backdrop so intrinsic to the texture of 20th-century Irish novels.”
I think new forms and prodding form are essential and we need to move away from the over-dependence on place and poesy on trees, landscape and what have you with which Irish fiction is sometimes lazily besotted. Rather than a rich texture or backdrop I find it increasingly limits what the novel can become because it’s sowed or pre-soaked instead with what we expect it or already know it to be. It can give rise to a stifling linear that I find at odds with the lives that intrigue me and it does nothing to speak to memory, which is rarely chronological. I have found in my readings of some of this work latterly that I hear notes or tone I’ve heard too often and I like to hear unexpected notes. I, personally, am more interested in the depiction of place through the sounds or behaviours of people in them and/or imaginings therein. I’d cite DM Fraser in this regard. His influence or his tipping me towards this. Fiction is a space for language, form and imagination and to some extent Irish fiction remains a little over fixated on authenticity and some kind of ache for its own social anthropology. Beckett, however, dispensed with such 80 years ago. (I am surprisingly and ashamedly poorly read on him, but have ingested enough to see this)
Curiously I am a complete contradiction in terms of my interest in the local of where I now live Vancouver. (I have lived in Ireland and had a relationship to/with Mayo since I was born) Thus we could probably throw both schools of thought into the blender and mix. I am fascinated by the psycho geography of place and read endlessly the likes of Ian Sinclair. I have old books here like the Diary of a London Explorer and clearly my interest in Vancouver labour history is steeped in place. But all of this interest tends to occupy a non-fiction space. If anything I’d want to subvert this in fiction. You only have your own instinct as a writer, you must follow that instinct and see where it takes you and which excavations it insists upon.
However, in regard to fiction and the novel I recall the writer Jenny Diski saying something along the lines of why would you expect to believe what you read in fiction? (This is not a precise quote, I must source precisely what she wrote) and I would add to it that fiction is a place or the place where we make stuff up. We should expect that invention to extend to language and form. For some reason I often felt compelled to create buildings in Malarky because as I discussed on the Urban Underbelly panel at Indian Summer Festival I was more curious about Our Woman’s emotional underbelly, her emotional relationship with the city when she visits it and how she nearly confides in certain physical buildings. (shops, art installations, bus stops etc). I also like remix as an approach. It’s a nod to the fact as readers we are occupying virtual spaces collectively, we are moving through reviewed space every day of the week. (But that’s a whole ‘nother strand worthy of a long form essay). This brings me back to the point of dispensing with place .. I would contend that as a writer I am more curious about fluid interpretations of place rather than predictable denotations that demonstrate a Jimi Hendrix ability with description and also that, the different social classes inhabit place differently and that fictional depictions to date often pay no regard to this and pander to novelistic expectations set down by whom? The predominant social class who have written fiction! Hence it’s more vital to create cartography around where this woman was consumed emotionally (kitchen table, Penneys, Farmer’s Co-op, bus) than where she was physically anchored on any map. Not least because the pov in the novel is utterly 360 degrees hers. She doesn’t sit about contemplating which parish she lives in and how it might physically present itself to her each day. She lives in that parish. She goes about her working day. She contemplates instead, for example, the woman who might be staring at her in the shop when she’s breaking down, interpreting the action of her husband’s fingers on the jars and bottles on her table. From those motions/responses she detects the indicators of her life.
OK I seemed to have added my point on place, despite insisting it would be made forthwith. I also seem to have ventured into multiple departures within it. As it says somewhere in Malarky, I can feel fingertips separating out my brain and must take my jet- lagged mental string of sausages out to fresh air and the pavement.