Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Irish despair casts a spell (Books - The Long Falling by Keith Ridgway)

I am grateful to John Self for having introduced me to another Irish wordsmith who can wring from the despair of his fellow souls graceful prose and a meaty, tension-filled read. I actually finished Keith Ridgway's 1998 novel The Long Falling about a week ago, but due to final exams, now over, I couldn't get to it here until now.
It rains on Cavan, Monaghan; rains on the hills and the lakes, and the roads; rains on the houses and the farms and the fences between them; on the ditches and the fields, on the breathing land; rains on the whole strange shape of it. Puts down a pattern.

And then it stops.

And the places of the country look different in the sun. They look new...
One knows from the stark opening that this is going to be a dark ride, but not without its riches. Ridgway writes of a long-abused wife and her gay son who, for a time, are united in the violent loss of their husband and father. Yet they are finally isolated in their unique pain even as they are transformed by it. I won't say more than that about the action, because somehow this book about estrangement from self is plotted with the suspense of a mystery. Ridgway also writes crack dialogue:
'I'm sorry about that,' she said. 'I just... I just got to the point where I wasn't...'

He nodded. Looked at the window. Saw them in another room.

'Wasn't able...'

'It doesn't matter.'

'Wasn't able to be calm.'

Her eyes caught his and he was suddenly aware of her, definitely, without question, as the same woman he had walked with as a boy.
You couldn't pay a screenwriter to do better dialogue. It snaps off the page with bulls-eye accuracy. Ridgway conveys the content of his story with way more than words - the rhythm of the interrupted thought builds, conveying a fraught state of mind without ever describing it - and this is accomplished while simultaneously shifting time frame for the second character.

Ridgway is equally capable of fashioning a resonant turn of phrase.
For the rest of the day he stayed away from the kitchen. Until later, when they sat down for their tea, and he cut the bread and talked so that she would not talk. He spoke as if silence cost him money...
Panic rang through her like a storm of bells...
This is a mesmerizing novel. Ridgway's writing is often arresting. The reader looks up from the page seeing with fresh eyes. What more could one ask from a book?

1 comment: