Review of Contemporary Fiction
With great aplomb and shite-smeared wellies, Malarky stomps squarely into the territory of Flann O’Brien, Samuel Beckett, Roddy Doyle, and Martin McDonagh. Malarky’s narrator-heroine, a diabetic widow named Kathleen (alternately “I,” “Our Woman,” and “Herself”), delivers a whirling “boreen of explanation” for both herself and all “patchwork women like me.” Herself is a bleakly updated Molly Bloom, never the Rose of Castille but a hapless, sexually confused farmer’s wife, prevented by Ireland itself from truly loving or mourning her gay son, Jimmy. His gayness shocks and challenges her simple maternal love and she is tragically granted her wish that he go away; in her time, place, and understanding there is no locality to harbor him. He enlists in the US Army, ships out to Iraq and Afghanistan, and then is “gone with the fairies.” Set in an Ireland of perpetual Swiftian malaise, where the Celtic Tiger is not even an exotic rumor, the cold, rainy landscape embodies the novel’s deeply emotional and frequently harrowing quandary. More than a few moments are heir to Beckett’s How It Is: “Obviously I am still stuck out here in the dark and it’s not a great place for me to be and I am not a bit happy about it. Who’d be happy about being wedged in the muck when you’ve only stepped out to pursue your dreams?” Herself’s increasingly unhinged recollections, masterfully woven from County Mayo dialect, mannerisms, and convoluted syntax, evolve an intense, relentless, wide-ranging concern with life and language that is hilarious, cruel, ambiguously unsettling, and powerfully contemplative. Is there an appropriate way to behave, to speak, to love? Is it possible to negotiate between the local and the foreign? Is there any sanity beyond a well-scrubbed kitchen floor and the cows fed on time? A smashing debut from Anakana Schofield. [Brendan Riley]
The Review of Contemporary Fiction is published by the Dalkey Archive Press.