Books: X marks the plot

Carol Birch reads an Irish tale of murder and despair; The Long Falling by Keith Ridgway Faber, pounds 9.99
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Indy Lifestyle Online
For his first novel, Irish writer Keith Ridgway had no shortage of ideas. Should he write about the famous "X" case, in which a 14-year- old rape victim was prevented from leaving the country for an abortion? Or the plight of a woman trapped in marriage to a violent man, finally cracking and committing murder? Or the Dublin gay scene and the difficulties of coming out in rural Ireland? In the end he seems to have settled on the lot. I am not sure it was a good idea.

Primarily this is the story of Grace Quinn, a middle-aged Englishwoman, resident in rural Ireland since her marriage to a morose and violent farmer. Grace has never been accepted by the local community. Her first child died at three in a drowning accident. Her beloved son, Martin, declaring himself gay, is banished to Dublin by his scandalised father. Driving home drunk, her husband kills the daughter of a neighbouring family, and is imprisoned. After his release Grace's isolation increases and, following a particularly bad kicking, she extracts a neat revenge by running him down on the same stretch of road.

In Dublin, Grace seeks a new life with Martin and his gay friends. The structure is episodic, alternating between mother and son's viewpoint. Determined to fit in, Grace accompanies Martin to gay clubs and bars, while the police maintain a discreet interest in her activities. Much of the tension turns on Grace's lonely knowledge of what she has done. Finally, she feels compelled to share it, with miserable consequences.

All of this takes place against the background of the real life "X" case, which rumbles on behind the scenes via media reports. Worthy of a book in its own right (Edna O'Brien's 1996 novel Down By The River dealt with it) this is never quite integrated. Its provides a somewhat clumsy analogy, fuelled by dreams, between Grace and X. Both are female victims of male violence,both on the wrong side of the law, but beyond that the similarity breaks down. If Grace approximates X, does the brutal husband equal the foetus? Such woolliness renders Grace's final symbolic offering of herself in place of X. A pity, since Ridgway has a sympathetic spirit and an observant eye. If only he could learn to focus it.

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