The Woman Not the Name
Brian Lynch’s previous novel, The Winner of Sorrow (2005), based on the life of the 18th-century poet, William Cowper, is highly regarded for its wit and compassion, and the beauty of its language. Lynch, who published his first collection of poetry in 1967, is also known as a scriptwriter, and has a high reputation as an art critic, being an authority on Tony O’Malley.
His latest novel, set mainly in Dublin between November, 2004 and the summer of 2005, follows a loosely-knit group of friends in their early 20s as they move beyond home and college to make their mark in the big city.
Will Ferris, an attractive musician from Cork, sings rambling poetic songs in the back bar of the Baggot Inn. He is managed by another young Corkonian, Ossie Gleeson, who is in the audience, along with solicitor Maeve MacNamee, Junior Legal Assistant in the Attorney General’s office, the woman Ossie had slept with the night before, and failed to impress. The flamboyant, outspoken Maeve is with her flat-mate Cory Leary, a junior doctor from Galway. They are joined by two sarcastic young officials from Government Buildings, Cormac Healy and Ultan McGrath. Other characters include fashionista Vanessa Banim, artist, teacher and Kraftwerk fan Emmet Roche, and Harry O’Gara, a waspish gay activist working as a window dresser at Brown Thomas. The name-blindness caused by such a large cast soon recedes as each character is described and given a full background.
The novel seems long at 346 pages, written in 46 short chapters, each circling around a significant incident. There is much witty Dublin-style banter, much drinking, some drugs, and various sexual entanglements. But there are dark currents running underneath the comedy, which first surface in an attempted suicide, and conclude in a gruesome murder which takes place off-stage, as in a Greek tragedy.
As you would expect, the writing is intelligent and highly polished, the use of simile and metaphor inspired, the jokes, often based on word play, erudite but sharp. For example: “‘Kitsche, my arse,’ Cormac said, without knowing he had made a pun.” An Argentinean gossip writer called Ernesto is nicknamed “Gay Chevara”. The Dublin accent, wealthy plumbers and the absurdities of the legal system are among the novel’s satirical targets.
Lynch has developed an oblique way of constructing a novel, often starting with a vivid image, then doubling back to reveal its context and full significance, while the narrative waits to regain the author’s attention. If you enjoy playful, intelligent writing, rich in imagery, there is a wealth of it. But you will have to work hard to follow the story, and may be left, as I was, suspecting you have missed the point.
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