By Damien Wilkins (VUP 2009).
We talked about this at our newly formed book group last night. So I can't claim all of this, but we seemed to be in agreement about most of what was said.
Damien is of course a tutor at the IIML, so we all struggled to not hear his voice while reading it, or in my case imagine him and his wife as the main characters!
For most of this book not a lot happens, Paddy seems to have it together more or less. His mother has a strange accent related affliction, but it's not life threatening, Paddy buys a bike in a kind of second mid-life crisis, but this doesn't really annoy anyone else, his step-daughter doesn't really like him, but they tolerate each other, the father of a former patient and long-time listener suddenly disappears, but turns out to be on holiday. So what drives this book? It's a good question and I'm not sure I know. I guess for a lot of it we are waiting to see what bad stuff is going to happen, which can only carry you so far. There are several ominous moments, but they always seem to be averted at the last minute. And this seems to be a continuing theme through the book, that narrowly avoided disaster; the disruption of expectation. It seems like life in this book is a series of near-misses until eventually one doesn't miss, and this is likely to happen when you least expect, and it's about what you do during those near-misses that counts. Not what happens when the big one comes.
There is something in there about communication, about connection. What is that people are waiting for? Why don't they say that thing now? Paddy lives next door his mother, but hardly ever sees her, when she suddenly gets this condition, he feels it's better to leave her alone, live life as normal. He talks to the father of a former patient every week on the phone, they are hardly friends, but somehow this small routine is important to Paddy. I was never sure what all this added up to, but it seemed relevant. Is it something about all those things in life that don't add up to anything?
In a lot of ways this is a bit of an anti-story and I think in lesser hands it would have been a disaster. A woman who wakes up one morning speaking in a French accent is hardly a premise with longevity and Damien wisely avoids making that the central story. And having no real dramatic arc is a bold move, instead he brings us into the lives (and the minds) of Paddy and his family. And this is what drives the book forward, the mis-communication, the odd moments, Paddy's interpretation of it all. The peripheral characters like Tony Gorzo, Camille and Iyob. They are hilarious and all bounce off Paddy's own baffled view of the world and himself.
There is a lot in this book and I was never bored. Someone at the book group said they weren't so into the cycling scenes, but I didn't mind those, maybe being a cyclist myself helped there. Damien has such great characters and always something underlying, something subtle grating on the interactions, that we read on waiting for it all to erupt. Luckily Damien never lets that happen.
This passage seemed to say something about Damien's style:
There were other divisions. He the bathroom, but she vacuumed. He took things to the post office but she managed their join bank account, keeping an eye on the automatic payments and all other bills except those connected with their various insurances which were somehow his area despite the fact he'd overlooked a double payment on their car insurance for several months. This had all developed mysteriously, in some cases with a kind of illogic, and lying in bed, stunned by the dream he'd just had, it was nice to gather up a few domestic details.