Modern Literature Dermot Healy Sudden Times

ISBN 13: 9780151005789

Sudden Times

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9780151005789: Sudden Times

Ollie Ewing has returned home from London to Sligo. In a daze, Ollie goes from job to job and from lodging to lodging until he settles in a run-down house with a group of art students. At night the noise comes from the street-drunks, screaming women, church bells, taxis, skinheads. Mornings he wakes up wondering what had happened, then goes to bed the next night wondering what will. Haunted by memories, Ollie hears voices interrogating him. And so unravels the story of the time he spent in London and how he has reached his present state of near madness. As he embarks on his journey to confront his experiences, we are led into the world of racketeering, sinister bosses, murder, and the hard, squalid life of foreign workers. A powerful, richly told story of an Irish working-class family, Sudden Times is original in concept and execution, tough but blessed with humor and empathy.

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Review:

Funny, bewildered, guilty, more than half-mad, the voice that narrates Dermot Healy's Sudden Times is like a nightmarish illustration of the old bumper sticker that says: Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out to Get You. Something terrible happened to Ollie Ewing while he was working construction in London, and as he wanders the streets and pubs of his hometown Sligo, he keeps his memories at bay with a ceaseless round of activity--walking, working, then walking some more. "What I've discovered is--once you're moving you're thinking, it's when you're not moving that things go awry. This numbness starts in the brain and what you see would sicken you." Ollie hears voices, although he tries to drown them out, and the world around him is shimmery and numinous, full of hidden and unfriendly signs. An empty wedding dress hanging in a cleaner's window transforms each night into the faceless apparition of a bride, and when he closes his eyes, he sees flames, courtrooms, corpses stuffed in the back of lorries. Eventually even this slight purchase on reality slips, and as Ollie travels to England to reconcile with his father, the book telescopes horribly backward, to his time in London and the mess it made of his life.

There, Ollie worked as a day laborer on building sites, joining a shadowy underworld of foreign workers, crooked bosses, violence, and drugs. This in spite of his best efforts to stay out of trouble:

I don't like hearing talk of governments. Politics makes me dizzy. They're cat. If you're paranoid about government then the psyche is unsettled. You're not well. Next thing is you're standing in Saint Columba's in your pyjamas talking to some bollacks about the phallus and chewing something to bring you down.
But this is an Irish novel, of course, its rough, lyric vernacular haunted by the ghosts of Beckett and Joyce, and Ollie's great tragedy is that politics find him whether he likes it or not. The strains of the traditional song "Cunla" torment him along with the voices of his dead, and the "reels and jigs" that echo through his head have names like "Rifles from High Buildings," "Protection Rackets," "Come Back Me Auld Mate," and "Is the Place Being Watched?" If the book has a fault, it's that its first half simply slips away; we're drawn into Ollie's London story, and the trip we took to get there seems in retrospect like an extended narrative tease. But in trying to make the two halves fit together, you might well pay this mad and beautifully terrifying novel the highest praise of all: that is, to read the last page, and immediately turn to the beginning and start again. --Mary Park

About the Author:

Dermot Healy is a poet, a playwright, and a novelist. His short-story collection Banished Misfortune won two Hennessy Awards and the Tom Gallon Award. His novels include Fighting with Shadows and A Goat's Song. He is a member of Asodana, the academy of distinguished Irish writers. He lives in Sligo, Ireland.

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