This book sucked me down into an abyss, and I’ve barely just now escaped. It’s certainly set my Goodreads challenge back weeks. I kept going and going; five pages before bed, sometimes three. A streak of 20 while dividing my attention between it and Grey's Anatomy. Talk about inertia in a plot!! Plot? Where?
After the brilliance of Skippy Dies, I was expecting so much more - or at least, given this was Murray's first novel, some parallels. Some of the complexity; the careful and clever layering of theme. A lot more poignancy and a lot more humour. All of it was lacking here.
Perhaps it’s that I just can’t relate to the rough metaphor Murray was going for: the clash of ‘old’ and ‘new’ Irelands embodied by the characters. I don’t have a dog in that race. Protagonist Charles’s vision of himself as an aristocratic Yeats, rambling about a drafty country manse pining for a time that never was (and his sister), was weird and jarring. The moments of parody were too few and far between to sustain the shtick. And also, maybe this novel’s time has come and gone – Ireland’s economic fortunes have waxed and now waned; the dynamic tension between old and new seems passé.
The stuff that did seem compelling - e.g., the conflicted, incestuous relationship between Charles and his sister Bel - went unexplored (perhaps because of the constraints of first-person narration - a narrator who is delightfully obtuse and clueless about the interpersonal goings on around him, and certainly his own inner motivations).
If I had to put my finger on it, the troublesome narration led to a lot of this novel’s problems – poor characterization, a lack of detail to get us invested in the characters (Bel and her mother? Bel and her father? The neighbour, the Bosnian housekeeper, Mirena, etc. etc.) Their life stories seemed interesting, important – but not to Charles, and therefore, the reader gets short-changed. ETA: That’s it exactly – Charles is the least interesting character in the book, yet he’s the one we’re stuck with.
Such a shame – I think there might have been a great story in here somewhere. Maybe someone else has found it.
By the end of Skippy
, I forgave it all its flaws. I’m thankful I read Skippy first, because had I not, by the end of this one, I wouldn’t have bothered.