Like a Failed Cake

Edmund Gordon

  • Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway
    Granta, 282 pp, £12.99, July 2012, ISBN 978 1 84708 741 6

Keith Ridgway used to be compared to John McGahern for his dourly lyrical stories of a changing Ireland. (‘Fr Devoy nodded his head and sipped his tea and waited. He watched the sky move and thought he saw rain in the distance but could not be sure.’) That stopped with the publication of his third novel, Animals, in 2006. It begins with a 19-page description of poking a dead mouse with a pen. The unnamed narrator wonders whether to use an umbrella or the arm of his sunglasses, but finally settles on the pen; he describes at length the sensation of prodding the tiny carcass, the ‘give and no give and give’ of it. Another incident spun out over several pages involves the narrator accidentally rubbing a spider onto his face; he hadn’t noticed it lurking on a towel. The novel has been read as a portrait of mental collapse, but if that’s what it is then it’s undramatic to the point of incompetence. It’s closer to being a Beckett-like provocation. The narrator of Animals tends, like Molloy, to stamp out his own observations: ‘Something stilled around me. I don’t know what I mean. I think I mean the city came to a halt. Which it didn’t.’

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