Anakana Schofield’s Malarky, published by the highly consistent small press Biblioasis, is a fairly tragic story of an Irish woman who loses her son to the army and her philandering husband to a prosaic death. For all that the book is partly a comic novel, driven by the unreliable and unwitting voice of the narrator, known only as Our Woman. The book starts shortly after the husband’s death, when Our Woman decides to quit grief counseling, and proceeds through the dissolution of her marriage, darting back and forth from past to present and generally moving in a serpentine rhythm.
The most interesting aspect of Malarky is Our Woman’s voice (the book shifts erratically between her first-person narration and a very vernacular-driven third person). It is a chronicle of this simple woman’s confusion when forced to confront her husband’s cheating on her and her son’s homosexuality (and later abandonment of the family for the army). Though it’s not as absurd or just plain weird as Beckett, the prose does give a distinct impression of being a relation to his. The comedy is wrung from her outrage at the unfairness of the life she has been dealt and her halting attempts to deal with it by engaging in her own affairs and asking the men to have sex with her in ways similar to her son with his boyfriends.
Have a look here at the prose:
Not much to boast of this library, but like the train comfortable as long as you get a seat. Four hours can pass in the company of a sniffing farmer or a factory worker, in on her tea break, to borrow the novels everyone wants to read. Except Our Woman. Plagued with query she is, yet when she sinks herself into the chair, her anxiety settles until she departs. It’s regretful she ever has to leave the library at all, many’s the day she’d like to stay put and be allowed to mould away to her own finality.
I love that “mould away to her own finality,” both for the way mould is used as a verb and for the action it implies, a very ambiguous sort of thing. Is it the decay of death? A mold-like growth to encompass her space to no purpose? Or just the peaceful life of mold, left to its own devices. Not too, the light comedy in the strange comparison of the library to the train, and the similar comedic sense in the phrase “plagued with query.”
The prose in Malarky is commonly this good, no small accomplishment. In terms of structure and voice, Malarky is an exemplary read, showing itself to be far ahead of most debut novels. Where I would say the book shows signs of being a debut novel is in what might be called the book’s ethos. Though Schofield penetrates deeply into the mind and circumstances of Our Woman, one rarely feels that the book is pushing beyond its main character into matters more profound than her suffering. However well-constructed, Our Woman’s story rarely comes to exceed similar stories of tragicomedy written previously, and this makes what is an otherwise trenchant book feel occasionally light.
But that’s not to say that the book is empty, not nearly. I do think there’s quite a bit in it to discover, and one can certainly find a lot to read into phrases like “mould away to her own finality.” It’s a strong read that I recommend to you, and I look forward to the next of Anakana Schofield’s novels.