Pickle Me This, Kerry Clare
Malarky by Anakana Schofield
If Hagar Shipley met Stella Gibbons, the end result might be Anakana Schofield’s Malarky, but then again, it probably wouldn’t be, because Malarky refuses to be what you think it is. And moreover, it probably wouldn’t be because the book is meant to be chock-a-block with allusions to James Joyce and Thomas Hardy. Don’t tell anybody, but I still haven’t read Ulysses (and hence the Gibbons instead of the primary sources), but I have readMalarky, and it was brilliant, which I know for certain even with the burden of my literary ignorance. And that I can pronounce a book as wonderful even whilst unable to access its higher planes of greatness is certainly saying something for the book itself, which is mostly, “You’ll like it too.”
Schofield’s heroine, Our Woman, if she can be summed up at all, will be summed up with the explanation she gives for the period of despair she suffered after the birth of her first child: “Then I had a cup of tea and six weeks later, I felt better.” There is so much that goes unspoken of, silences to be filled with the rudiments of life as a farming wife, of motherhood, of friendship with her gang of local women (“…not a day passed when several of them didn’t meet. They were like tight ligaments in each other’s life, contracting, extending and sustaining the muscle of each other, house to house, tongue to ear”).
The bottom falls out, however, when she discovers her son up to unmentionable things with the neighbour’s boy. Our Woman’s stress is compounded by a woman she meets in town who confesses to her that she’s been doing unmentionable things with Our Woman’s husband. In response, Our Woman goes out into the world determined to do a few unmentionable things of her own to learn a thing or two, but the situation becomes more complicated– her son takes off to join the US army and local rumour has it that he did it to get away from her, and also her obsession with what she saw him doing becomes a kind of fascination, a desire to be close to him in an impossible way that suggests local rumours could be true.
But it’s hard to tell. Malarky is very much of the world– the Irish economy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the plight of immigrants, mental illness, grief– and yet, its interiority is impermeable. When Our Woman spies her son shirtless in the barn, she notes, “He must have been freezing, his pale body bleary and quivering, trousers at his ankles.” However perversely, she is ever a mother, urging on a sweater. But she’s not just a comic figure; Schofield evokes Our Women with remarkable sympathy: “Mainly she had wanted to hit him about the head and shout these aren’t the things I have planned for you.” Malarky is a journey beyond the limits of love, an equally sad and hilarious portrait of motherhood.
“Malarky is like nothing else, and what everything should be,” is something I wrote down this weekend. First, because it’s as funny as it’s dark, and also because it dares readers to be brave enough to follow along an unconventional narrative. Though the winding path is only deceptively tricky– Our Woman’s voice is instantly familiar, and the shifting perspectives remain so intimate and immediate that the reader follows. Consenting to be led, of course, which is the magic of Malarky. This is a book that will leave you demanding more of everything else you read.