Dalkey Archive £8.99 (135pp) (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
Transit, By Bernard Share
Friday 19 June 2009
In the toilets of a Gulf state airport in the 1990s, one dog-tired Irish globe-trotter pees on another's shoe ("a stream of near-unconsciousness"). Soon enough, these two ageing Africa hands (development-aid bigwigs, we deduce) have nosed out a shared history over a challenging bottle of Jordanian red. Back in the gents, they find that a mysterious door leads not into a cleaner's cupboard but a country boozer in the Ireland of their joint youth, c1949. A repeat visit flushes them back to 1950 and Trinity College Dublin, that crumbling "fortress of the Ascendancy" where both studied at that period.
Cue a deliciously sly and offbeat novel of time-travel, scrambled pasts, abandoned hopes and Ireland, old and new. If Samuel Beckett ever returned to write a Doctor Who special, it might closely resemble Transit.
The prolific novelist and historian Bernard Share, a TCD alumnus of a slightly later vintage, achieves much more than a whimsical homage to the Irish greats whose words and ideas flit through this slender but pregnant novel. He adopts the gimmick of some Hollywood high-concept movie: revisit the scenes of your college days, and even shed that "sixty-year-old tub of guts" to inhabit your younger, fitter self. From this device he fashions a droll and touching comedy that, paranormal machinery aside, exposes the unhealed wounds of memory, nostalgia and regret. "The past," our time-warp trippers soon grasp, "is not all it's cracked up to be."
In lissom, cat-like sentences, rippling with allusion but shorn of platitude, Share makes merry with the dank and tweedy, early-closing Dublin of the age. Beadily observed by the pigeon-obsessed bus driver Mr O (Flann O'Brien, take a bow), the two rejuvenated undergrads slip back into the world of tea-time invitations to young ladies in college digs (permission of the Junior Dean compulsory), against-the-clock boozing in back bars and sexual frustrations as steamed-up as the fuggy air on those licensed premises. "Rimmer" must once again pursue the cami-knickered Miss Cameron and then fall for the addictive – and addicted – Barbara, wild and waiting in her Ballsbridge flat.
As he glances sharply at the tropes of time-travel fiction (can our pair fix the past and so upgrade their present?), Share also spans the abyss between two Irelands. Even from this Nineties vantage-point, the tight-laced nation has already travelled fast and far, pioneering "all the strategems in the move from mountain farm to Mercedes".
As surreal jolts send us, lavatory portal by lavatory portal, from a student staging of Hamlet (a nod to Joyce's Ulysses) to a VIP latrine in Kenya, the past forfeits its glamour and Rimmer suspects that "hindsight is overrated". "Stranger in a strange land", he comes to know that – whether you hang a sign marked Irish humour, metaphysics or fantasy on this capacious cubicle of fiction - he can't go home again.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Canadian woman suing police who locked her in van with sex offender who then raped her
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
The secret joke hidden in Silence of the Lambs' most famous line
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures