Well this is an unusual book and at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The author is Irish and wrote the book during a youth of temping and travelling. Apparently, it languished unpublished for ten years after being rejected by everyone before being taken up by a small independent publisher in Norwich. The version I read was published by Faber so presumably they have had a change of heart. Now the book is feted by everyone and won the Bailey’s prize for fiction last year. This leads me to wonder about the publishing industry. Is it all Emperor’s no clothes? Quirky masterpieces like this are ignored, then praised. Endless pap is churned out.
So the novel is highly unusual because of the writing style. The prose is chopped up, visceral, more like poetry. It is stream of consciousness, Joycean, giving us the thoughts of a young girl as she grows up in Ireland. The life experiences are tough: unloving, critical mother, brutal Catholicism, sexual abuse by an uncle… Some scenes are hard to face. The book is all the better for that. The words perfectly convey a feeling, a scene, snatches of conversation. I found echoes of my own experiences at times which were like lightning bolts as I remembered them. I would be tempted to say this was a work of genius if I did not somehow feel we have been here before…the long shadow of the loveless Irish childhood, subject of a thousand novels and films. And the hand of Joyce lies heavy.