BOOK REVIEW / Orange turns towards green: Walking the dog - Bernard MaClaverty: Cape pounds 14.99

AFTER seven years of absence from the fiction front - dogged by doubts about his writing - Bernard MacLaverty is back - like the pop-up patron saint of stoics we always knew he was. Too often his detractors have reviewed him blindly, missing those strands of humour that seem to vie with his lyrical impulse, his subtle way of caressing the details that really count in rendering lives that are trapped in a world of half-made dreams.

Walking the Dog, his fourth collection, stakes out that territory once more, taking up where The Great Profundo (1987) seemed to end, catching its characters in collision or collusion with life's events and with each other, a world in which memories and words are potent weapons - sometimes subversive, allusive, ever ready to bite, more like the terrorists than the dog in MacLaverty's title tale: 'Get in,' says the guy with the gun who takes John and his hound on a night drive through Belfast. 'Nice and slow or I'll blow your . . . head off.' Is he Protestant or Catholic? is the nub of their inquisition. 'Can you say the Hail Mary? To save your bacon?'

Tense and intricate though it is, the jiggery-pokery here is laced with piggery-jokery. At one point the terrorists stop the car at lights which change 'from orange to green.' This is subtle, allusive and wryly ironic to anyone reading with even a passing knowledge of Ulster's riven politics.

It is slippery stuff, but not half as vaporous or elliptical as the stories in italics (ten in all) concerning 'Your man', the author's 'beleagured alter ego.' They serve to counterpoint the main tales, to offer a minimalist glimpse of 'your man' in action - an expert in frittering valuable moments, pondering such matters as the labyrinthine nature of narrative, and the author's multiple roles as collector, dispenser and steward of the language.

These pieces earn - and deserve - little more than fleeting attention. They are doodles, the dandiest of which present thoughts aspiring to be ideas, but which lack the roots from which to grow, or to tap our complicity. But there also some richly moving, precise and exacting tales here. These often concern themselves with risk, with senses alerted as characters enter strange terrain, sometimes alien, even hostile.

A Silent Retreat brings together a Catholic boy, considering his vocation for the priesthood, with a B-special policeman guarding a jail, swapping theological notions, cigarettes, and discovering common ground in doubt. Prisoners of history, they press against the certainties to come, holding out for alternatives, for other lives.

'Fuck the Pope and No Surrender,' resounds more than once, yet small surrenders are characteristic of the obliqueness of these tales: a chess grandmaster offers a draw to a 13-year-old on holiday in Spain; a teacher visiting the cancer ward sees a friend submit, amid whiskey and stoic wisecracks, to stealthy death. Many of the characters bear the wounds of the past. but 'In Bed', meanwhile, reverses the coin and posits hope: there is a splendid dignity marked by devotion in the way a mother tends the bedside of her daughter stalked by long illness.

The compassion and humanity of these stories is served, not eclipsed, by MacLaverty's eye for telling details; these are placed like small sacraments of ordinariness amid the emotional deeps and implied understandings. At their very best his tales are poised and beautifully balanced, outward yet intimate, graced by both subtlety and substance. In Walking the Dog he proves his talents as a miniaturist once more.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones