BOOK REVIEW / Tragic exile in Ireland: A goat's song - Dermot Healy: Harvill pounds 14.99
Saturday 04 June 1994
Dermot Healy's novel prompts us to ask whose tragedy it is. Whose is the legacy of misfortune, the fate of banishment into a corner of the mind where imagination becomes its own enemy?
Jonathan Adams, a retired RUC man, and father of actresses Sara and Catherine, is a candidate for the role. He is haunted by the memory of one heated moment in Derry, when he and others beat civil rights marchers back to their ghetto. In the end he has surrendered to a life of ignominy and shame, moving from the North to the Mullet coast, an improbable exile.
Jack Ferris too finds terra non grata wherever he goes. It's his inner condition. His wheel of fortune grinds and grumbles, oiled by the drink. In and out of hospital for the cure, on and off the fishing boats, tossing down pints, stomping through ceilidhs, Jack has a restless, seeking personality. Courting the Adams girls, he flirts with the strange exotica of Protestant allure, something mysterious, glinting, beckoning.
Perhaps these women ignite his imaginings. Jack is a playwright, plotting his life in scenes of despair and disaffection. He is the existentialist boyo, three decades too late to make the big time as a literary hero - but with iron in his soul to match the booze that swills through his veins. Healy gives us chunks of Ferris's first-person prose, which provide the percussion that underscores the book's sense of barely articulated threat.
The novel's quest for a spark is fulfilled in Ferris's love affair with Catherine, which is crafted with wonderful stealth. By using both the first and the third person, Healy is able to give an added ironic edge both to the pain of their parting and to Ferris's hunt for conciliation. The couple travel across Ireland following Catherine's studies in Belfast, to Dublin where Catherine is acting in Ferris's play, and along the capillary roads of the West. Healy catches the pitch, the angles of voices, and evokes the several Irelands of the mind.
It is in its scope that A Goat's Song is most impressive. Healy interweaves a not quite documentary verisimilitude of landscape with the taut strands of the novel's strident, yet cloistered, romance. His portrayal of the myths of Belfast and the West coast pierces through the stereotypes, while helping us to see clearly the justification for their existence.
Jonathan Adams sits in the narrative like an island, or perhaps like a peninsula. Healy could have paid this character more attention, though, for his is the history of Ulster's recent past and impending future. He tends to get lost in A Goat's Song, a loss which in lesser novels might stop the narrative in its tracks. Here it encourages readerly gluttony. For this wonderful celebration and lament creates its own hunger, its own momentum.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for beauty pageant
- 2 Crystal Palace next manager latest: Palace consider Ally McCoist - EXCLUSIVE
- 3 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 4 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 5 Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
Coolio has sold his soul to Pornhub
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile