This is my first contribution to https://746books.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/readireland2016/ which is an event being run by Cathy at 746 Books. This book was originally published in 2011. My copy is the newly released paperback edition from Dalkey Archive Press.
The focus of this book is an old man named Farley who lives by himself in the suburbs of Dublin. When the book opens he is laying on his bathroom floor and it is evident from the symptoms he describes that he has suffered a stroke. He can’t move and is unable to call for help so it is terrifying for him that no one knows he has fallen. How long will he lay there before someone comes to his rescue? The rest of the book is a retelling of his life as each chapter reaches back another ten years in his story, leading us all the way back to his early childhood.
As the author reaches back into the decades to tell us Farley’s story the details of his life and how he ends up alone are slowly revealed. Farley was married to a woman whom he absolutely adored. He meets her in the 1960’s when he is a young man and is unsure of the path his life will take. He wants to move to Australia, much to the dismay of his widowed mother, and work as a car salesman. But Martina comes into Farley’s life just at the right time to give him direction and grounding. Farley gets a job as a clerk in an office, a job which he is proud of and does for the next forty years of his life.
A large part of Farley’s story is taken up with the grief he feels after the tragic death of his wife. From the details he gives us about the last hours of her life it seems that Martina suffered a painful bout of cancer. She was his whole life and he is completely devastated when she is taken from him. A few months after her death his Uncle Cal is so worried about him that he goes to Farley’s house and gets him out of bed and urges him to clean up his house and get back to work. Farley slowly begins to work his way out of his cloud of grief but he calls the entire year after Martina’s death his dark period. Farley never finds the kind of love he had with Martina ever again. Farley has an affair with Kathleen, Martina’s sister, who also happens to be married to his boss. They both realize that Farley is trying to use Kathleen as a poor substitute and the affair gradually fizzles out. Kathleen is worried that if her family finds out about the affair then she will lose all respect and love from her children.
So the pieces are gradually filled in to show us how Farley ends up alone at the end of his life on his bathroom floor. The theme of loneliness pervades this story as Farley tries to make connections with people in his life. But as an old man who is set in his ways this is no easy task. When his Polish immigrant neighbor offers to take a key to his house so she can check in on him he practically runs away from her. As he walks the streets of Dublin in search of a cobbler to fix his shoe he laments the changing landscape of a city he used to know so well. But it’s changing store fronts and differences make him feel even more lonely and isolated.
The details that are given by the author about Farley’s life caused me to become emotionally attached to this old man. I knew from the beginning that the story would not have a happy ending for Farley. But then again, he does live a rich, full life filled with love, friends, and hard work. The fact that I was sad when the book was over is a testament to the author’s talented, character-focused writing.
About The Author:
Twice winner of the Listowel Writers Week short story competition, she was also a prize winner in the Observer/Penguin short-story competition. Her latest novel, Last Train from Liguria, is set in 1930’s Fascist Italy and Dublin in the 1990’s and will be published in June 2009.