Ollie is back home in Sligo, but his mind is still in London. He is keeping life simple, dealing with trolleys in the supermarket, dosing with some art students, treading quietly on the stairs, watching himself. But close his eyes and he's back in the city with his pal Marty, queuing for jobs on building sites and drinking in The Lag. At night the terror closes in: the gangsters, the protection rackets, Scots Bob and Silver John, his brother Redmond. Finally, he realizes that he must go back and face his ghosts.
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Ollie Ewing has forgotten the thing that tells him who he is. The hero of Dermott Healey's Sudden Times has returned to Sligo to recover from "a few experiences" in London by laying low and listening to "complaints and sermons, jibes and asides" in his own head. Men are after him. A crowd of them. Or maybe not. He's in hiding, mostly from his own shame.
His brother Redmond and his best friend Marty are dead. It seems as though Marty died in a labouring accident but as snippets of Ollie's scatty recollections cohere, it becomes apparent that Marty was murdered, left in the back of a lorry, in a pile of charred bones. Redmond too, was flown home from Luton in a coffin and it isn't until much later in the novel that the details of his manslaughter are revealed. The deaths haunt Ollie and people in the town can see the danger in his eyes. His attempts to reintegrate socially and mentally are slack, confused, painful and absurdly funny. He shifts from job to job, finally getting routine and acceptance as a trolley check-out in Doyle's supermarket. "You have to break out before you can learn the laws of the tribe. And you have to break inside before you can learn your true nature." Ollie is often uncertain of time or place and dislocation overtakes him without warning, throwing the narrative back to London, forward to France, while Ollie is too frightened to move far at all.
Healy's prose has ripping dialogue, an amiable grace and moments of great, uncomplicated tenderness for Ollie and his estranged father, who's holed up in a single room in Coventry, a burnt-out labourer, too poor, proud and travel home. In one of the most hilarious scenes in the book, Ollie and his father and "a posse of retired, low-slung Sligo and Mayo men" roam the Midlands looking for a fiddler from Gurteen and a "bit of crack". "It was the sort of thing my father would do, go searching for a man he couldn't find." Ollie is a man Ollie cannot find, and Healy excels at a compassionate portrait of the loss of self, with a fierce, resilient humour and a touching, vulnerable love for his characters. He works the paradoxes of pathos and tenacity beautifully. The climax of what happened to Ollie is irresistibly sinister and packed with sustained menace and Healy mines the particular tragedy that can befall the working class Irish in England with astute bleakness. --Cherry SmythReview:
"Sudden Times is the simplest, perhaps the most directly powerful of Dermot Healy's extraordinary novels. Comic and brutal, it has all the excitement of a page-turner and the immediacy of a poem."-Neil Jordan "Original and astringent and touching and eerily pure . . . a wonderful book which asks to be compared with Joyce and Beckett in more than just an idle way."-Times Literary Supplement
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