Books: Concrete and cakes in Cavan
THE BEND FOR HOME: A Memoir by Dermot Healy, Picador pounds 16
Sunday 15 September 1996
As he admits, the best material for his fiction and drama comes from his family: quick-witted mother Winnie, whose "stories were told so often that I always thought I was there"; his aged father forced by illness to retire from the Gardai of a small Westmeath village to a sister-in- law's cafe in the centre of Cavan town; and the powerful Aunt Maisie, whose early disappointment in love has left an uncertain character veering from dreamy to cynical, as when, taking an order for a wedding cake, she barks, "The rutting season has started again!"
Though the child's eyes, the Breifni Cafe has a nightmarish quality. His arrival from the village of Finea into an inferno of cake-making and customers is a shock from which he never quite recovers. Unfamiliar noises (including the systematic beating of children next door) haunt his sleep. Memories of a happier place induce a bout of sleepwalking. And his dream of returning to Westmeath is dashed on a trudge into the countryside as the road he believes will lead to their old home brings him back into the streets of Cavan.
His childhood landscape is gone. Family meals are eaten before a wall- mirror, all conversation directed at their reflections: "Always there were two of you there: the one in whom consciousness rested, and the other, the body, which somehow couldn't belong and was always at a certain remove ... This distance between my mind and my body has always remained ..."
The self-analysis is interesting. On the negative side, it explains the writer's tendency to swerve from moments of real intensity into bluster or joke. More positively, it describes him as showman. And that ability to keep moving, spinning any number of balls in the air, comes into its own here. Place and time spool effortlessly forward and back through experiences of first love and LSD, pub-crawling round Cavan, puberty spent with pictures of suckling breasts in a medical book, a 42-pound pike, shot as it chased a shooting party off the lake, and the French scandal of Great Aunt Jane who returned to the Free State to open the Breifni. Each page spills over with wonder. The borders of fact and fiction are often blurred, but many images recur in Healy's work: "All I've ever written about is a bridge, a man in uniform, a woman who takes the reins of a business."
Gradually, innocent surprise matures into irony. The death of his father on Christmas Eve, 1962, comes as a second shock. The 15-year-old is at a dance when it happens because, as with the move from Finea, his people had not warned him: "We didn't want to upset you." Young Healy goes off the rails, mitching school, drinking excessively and breaking girls' hearts in the local convent. The style of memory changes too. Free-wheeling storytelling is replaced by a teenage diary, the cryptic text and the author's brisk explanations displaying his new sense of distance. Winnie preserves the diary for her son, and as the middle-aged man deciphers those angry years, chips in with her own version of events. She and Maisie are growing infirm, but their delight in storytelling and Maisie's bitter wit are still going strong.
Gradually, the focus shifts from the son to his mother. A kind of forgiveness develops as they struggle to unravel the past and cope with Winnie's deterioration. By the time she dies, their conversations have cast doubt on Healy's incomplete memory; proof perhaps that those random shafts of truth are genuinely stranger than fiction.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Man to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia after ripping up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Skrillex and Diplo's 24-hour DJ set shut down by police after 18 hours
Alien 5: Sigourney Weaver will reprise Ripley role in new movie, says director Neill Blomkamp
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Drake matches The Beatles' record with 14 singles in top 100 chart at the same time
Aidan Turner interview: 'being a sex symbol is a little awkward'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'