The Montreal Gazette
BY IAN MCGILLIS, SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE JUNE 8, 2012
It’s post Celtic Tiger Ireland, and uneasy times have come to a family farm in County Mayo. As the price of cattle plummets and the man of the house, Himself, spends more and more time sitting in the living room staring into space, his wife, Our Woman, accidentally espies her son in a highly compromising position – with another young man. A little later, while shopping in town, Our Woman is accosted by a certain Red the Twit with the news that she, Red, has been receiving erotic favours from Himself. Soon the son has rebelled by joining the Army – the U.S. army – and gets shipped to Afghanistan. Then Himself dies.
Irish Canadian Anakana Schofield has titled her debut novel with a word defined as “exaggerated or foolish talk, usually intended to deceive.” It’s the perfect tipoff for a book where language gets taken on a wild ride. The perspective shifts sometimes bewilderingly between firstperson and third, but the voice is always Our Woman’s. Grappling with grief and guilt even as she revels in her new and unaccustomed freedom, pursuing a belated sexual awakening/emancipation (it would be a spoiler to reveal the man she chooses, so suffice to say it’s someone whose very presence tells us something about the new Ireland) and gradually loosening her grip on what those around her might call reality, she’s one of the most vivid fictional creations to come along in years, and a new literary standard bearer for the most underrepresented of demographics: the working class middleaged woman.
“If it’s not possible to be in two places at the same time,” says Our Woman, “I have discovered it utterly possible to be in two separate minds at the same time. Come here and go away minds.” Such is the empathy she elicits that, like the best studies of minds in torment, Malarky gets you asking “Who’s really the crazy one here?”
Toeing the delicate line between tragedy and comedy – the former inherent in the bare facts of Our Woman’s life, the latter in her irrepressible voice – Schofield starts at a pitch of inspiration most novels are lucky to reach at any point and remarkably sustains that level all the way through. The spirit of Joyce’s Molly Bloom hovers around the edges of Malarky, so if you’ve always found the last pages of Ulysses to be the highlight of that difficult masterpiece, you might just find Molly’s modern day descendant in Our Woman. Others will be reminded of another Irish classic, lately fallen into unjust neglect: Edna O’Brien’s 1960 novel The Country Girls. But here’s one Irish country girl who has grown up and seen and done things O’Brien’s could never have envisioned.
Malarky, By Anakana Schofield, Biblioasis, 222 pages, $19.95 © Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette