Category Archives: Keith Ridgway

The Long Falling – Keith Ridgway

There are some books that are an absolute bugger to write about, simply because you don’t want to ruin a moment you yourself had as a reader for anyone else. In the case of Keith Ridgway’s ‘The Long Falling’ it is a moment where your jaw drops and you have to re-read the page to check what has just happened really has. This happened to me in chapter one, making it really bloody difficult (thank you Keith, tut) to extrapolate on the book too much, which I so want to do, without giving that moment away. I shall try though…

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Faber & Faber, paperback, 1998 (2004 edition), fiction, 305 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

 

Grace Quinn is a woman lonely and lost, yet actually not alone. First there is her husband, a man who likes to drink so much he killed a local girl in a hit and run. Secondly are the ghosts of her past lives, the one she had before she became Mrs Quinn and the one that she had with her sons; Sean who died, an accident but one she feels very much responsible for partly through her husband’s and the locals responses, and the other who left for Dublin as soon as he could after he had told his mother and father he was gay.

As you get to know Grace and learn of the sorrow at the centre of her life, which is really all encompassing, you don’t feel that things could go much worse for her, but they do. What happens I will not say, as you need to read this book for yourself to find out, yet it means she must go and take some time out from the world with her rather estranged son Martin and the big city life of Dublin. Yet the mother and son bond that was once so tight seems to have become elastic and awkward and there is the fact that both of them are trying to keep their lives rather secret from the other, only projecting the side  of themselves  that they think the other wants to see.

“Martin had always known something about his mother that nobody else knew. But he could not have said what it was. He was aware only that there remained something unspoken between them. Perhaps it was a simple thing, Common memories. Love. But Martin thought that it was something else. To do with their walking away and coming back. The risk in it. Like a dare. It played in her eyes. It had strength. It had stared out at him, and she had allowed no one else to see it but him. He remembered the strength of it. He looked for it now, but either it had gone, or he had forgotten how to see it.”

Once in the city, and in Martin’s world, initially we see just how much the distance has grown between them. Dublin is a city that is trying to modernise itself whilst in the papers and on everyone’s lips is the case of a 14 year old girl who is being banned from leaving the country to abort a pregnancy caused by rape. In fact one of Martin’s friends, Sean who I thought was a right ‘bod cac’ (look it up), is working on the case as a journalist which in itself becomes a twist in the book. Martin’s gay lifestyle is also completely alien to his mother, even though they take her to a gay pub, not only that but Martin is madly, almost recklessly, missing his lover Henry, a feeling Grace has no idea of. The more we read the more we see they are at odds yet the more we know this relationship and its bonds will be important as the book, plot and indeed characters unravel.

Ridgway’s prose is stunning. He can make the grimiest, and in the case of one of Martin’s less glamorous haunts (what is it with Ridgway and saunas? I must ask him) greyest, of scenes somehow beautiful. The writing can occasionally be repetitive and sometimes a little emphatic yet somehow he makes this seem like the poetry of his prose. He also creates brilliantly vivid and flawed characters that you care about, despite some of their darker traits. You can see why it won both the Prix Femina Etranger and Premier Roman Etranger in France.

“Imagine falling from a great height. Without panic. Imagine taking in the view on the way down, as your body tumbles gently in the air, the only sound being the sound of your progress. Your progress. Imagine that it is progress to fall from a great height. A thing worth doing. Though it is not a thing for doing. You do nothing, you simply allow it to happen. Imagine relaxing into the sudden ground. Imagine the stop.”

If I had a little bit of a literary crush on Ridgway’s writing after reading ‘Hawthorn and Child’ last year, I now have something of a full on crush on it from reading ‘The Long Falling’. It shocked me from the first chapter which slowly meanders before a sudden twist, which happens a lot in this book actually, yet unlike some books that first amazing chapter is bettered as the book goes on and for all these reasons I strongly urge you to give it a read. I loved it, if love is the right word? I was also thrilled that this was as brilliant as the previous Ridgway I read yet a completely different book in a completely different style.

You may now see why I am thrilled I will be talking to Keith Ridgway, along with Ben Marcus, tomorrow night as part of Liverpool’s Literature Festival ‘In Other Words’, more details here – do come. Who else has read ‘The Long Falling’ and what did you make of it? For another, and I think much more eloquent review see John Self’s thoughts here. Have you read any of his other novels, like ‘Hawthorn and Child’, at all?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Faber & Faber, Keith Ridgway, Review

Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I think I should state from the very start of today’s post that I don’t think any review, let alone my own, could really do justice to ‘Hawthorn & Child’, Keith Ridgway’s fourth and latest novel. However, now we have got that slightly awkward moment out of the way let me tell you why, without a doubt, I think it is one of the best books that I have read all year. So much so that I have read it three times, yep it is that good. I could finish there but I won’t, you need more of a push to pick it up than just that.

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Granta Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 282 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

It doesn’t seem any accident that the opening of ‘Hawthorn & Child’ starts with Hawthorn asleep and dreaming as his partner Child drives them to a hospital to interview someone who has been shot before they are operated upon. There is very much a slightly dreamlike, or occasionally nightmarish, quality to a book which is in a way a novel and also very much a collection of short stories that sort of interweave and interlink and sort of don’t. Do not let this put you off in the slightest because this is actually one of the many things that is so blooming brilliant about a book that takes risks in its writing style and had this reader completely thrilled by it.

Hawthorn and Child are two partners in fighting crime in London. Despite the fact that they are the title characters of the book they aren’t actually the main characters throughout, well maybe Hawthorn is in a way (see this book is delightfully tricky), but they do link all the stories that create this wonderfully quirky novel appearing in the forefront or back ground of every tale/chapter. Nor, again despite its title and the characters it links to, is this book anywhere near your run of the mill crime or ‘literary crime novel’ either. Mystery is definitely the main theme of the book, but not in the way that you would think.

For example at the start of the book there is a shooting, I naturally assumed that this would be the overall story arch of the whole novel, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact as the book goes on, and more thrills, crimes and unique stories and characters appear it fades into the back ground and the mystery becomes more about the mysteries we as people hide from others. A brilliant example of this is when Hawthorn and Child, investigating a suspicious suicide, go to interview the deceased acquaintance that may have seen him last who knows nothing of this case really but, as we see through his internal monologue, may well be a serial killer of male and female prostitutes.

The prose is brilliant, simple, dark, punchy and effective. Ridgway manages to bring London and a whole cast of creepy, crazy and complex characters utterly to life. Just my cup of tea. Hawthorn was probably my favourite, I didn’t ever feel I knew Child so well, a half decent copper who is openly gay (and gets much jibes and ribbing because of it) and who is prone to weeping and anonymous sexual encounters. There is something grubby about this book, but grubby in a good earthy way. I don’t know if you can call a book sexy, and I do not under any circumstances mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way just to clear that up, but it has a certain animalistic nature to it that I found rather irresistible. The sort of writing that might give you a crush on an author. Maybe I am not making sense; maybe I have been lost in the ‘Hawthorn and Child’ world completely myself. I am fine with that if so.

An example of this is one of my favourite pieces/chapters/stories in the book ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ which manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it manages to be three separate narratives, one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna (not for the prudish, but you are all open minded readers here I know) and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The latter story stands alone, despite being in the middle of the other two and looks at how Hawthorn copes with his sexuality at work and with his family, plus has a very sweet nostalgic twist brought on by a horrendous tale of someone’s death. However the cleverest part of this tale was that Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which. Brilliance, here is an example of this…

“At a signal they move from the wall. They move towards the others. It is always a confrontation. It is always a stand-off. Hawthorn is shoulder to shoulder with men like himself. He is eye to eye across the air. He is picking out certain faces. He is making calculations. There are certain things he wants to do. There are things he doesn’t want to do. These things are always people. He accepts or declines each face. Each set of shoulders. He is agreeing to and refusing each body in turn. His mind is ahead of him. He is saying yes to that one, no to that one. He is choosing. Choice is an illusion.”

I think the best way to sum up the wonderfully quirky, exciting and surreal yet real ‘Hawthorn & Child’ comes from one of the many characters who could be a psychopath or sociopath or just mad who says “Knowing things completes them. Kills them. They fade away, decided over and forgotten. Not knowing sustains us.” This is a book where not everything is resolved, stories create stories, some fade and some linger, the only constant is the brilliant writing, compellingly created cast, sense of mystery and dark humour which will sustain you from the start until the end and may just have you turning to the first page again as soon as you have finished the last. I have heard some people say this is a difficult book, I just found it a complete joyride. This has easily been one of my reading highlights of the year, again and again and again. I loved it and strongly urge you to give it a whirl.

Who else has read ‘Hawthorn & Child’ and what did you think? I have to point you in the direction of John Self who has done an amazing review of this book, really promoted it and has also a great interview with Ridgway himself too (not jealous at all, cough!) Have you read any of Ridgway’s other novels and which would you recommend, though I have to say I think I want to go and read them all now, smitten?

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Filed under Books of 2012, Granta Books, Keith Ridgway, Review