Books: Concrete and cakes in Cavan

THE BEND FOR HOME: A Memoir by Dermot Healy, Picador pounds 16

"What happened is a wonder, though memory is always incomplete." Dermot Healy has already published highly praised fiction, poetry and drama, but this memoir of family life in Westmeath and Cavan is truly wonderful. It hops and jumps through childhood and adolescence to the deaths of his father and mother, mixing the surreal with solid concrete, weaving humour with a sustained sense of loss. And always, whether recounting his parents' honeymoon, when a madwoman leeches on to them, or the birth of a neighbour's child, the writer is somehow present, observing, empathising, adding a new spin to the most humdrum events.

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.

Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?