Sunday, 13 January 2008

Winterwood by Patrick McCabe

I'll often sit in winterwood for hours...maybe just humming a few bars of 'Scarlet Ribbons', watching all the little ribbons as they flutter in the breeze. In the timeless beauty of our winterwood home.

tells the story of Redmond Hatch, a journalist who returns to his roots in the West of Ireland. In his home place of Slievenageeha, he comes under the spell of Ned 'Auld Pappie' Strange, a fiddling, story-telling mountainy man. Is Ned a gas ticket or something a lot more frightening? The storyline follows Hatch's descent from family man in the economically depressed Ireland of the 80s to mentally unstable drifter in the boom times of the Ireland in the Noughties.

Hatch's convoluted narration, with his self-consciously "educated" vocabulary, shows his dislocation from his background, and ultimately from reality. He idealises his wife and daughter, trying maintain a perfect happiness that steadily becomes creepier and creepier. As his life fragments, he starts to emulate Auld Pappie. His reaction to the changes in his life and in the society around him is to obsessively dwell on the old fashioned mountain life of his early childhood.

Only McCabe could imbue such a disturbing narrative with black humour. This dark and twisted novel is by far his best book since The Butcher Boy. The sinster story got under my skin in a way few stories do. This is brilliant and disturbing and a must-read for any fans of contemporary Irish fiction.


Imani said...

I've always meant to read McCabe ever since I saw the frustrating "Breakfast on Pluto" film adaptation -- it was clear that the source material was great (or at least interesting) but the director/screen writers just couldn't translate that well.

I mean to start with Butcher Boy.

verbivore said...

I am with Imani and have been meaning to read McCabe for a while now. This looks wonderful, do you think it might be a good book to start with for someone who's never read McCabe before?

Logophile said...

Hi Imani & Verbivore, thanks for stopping by. The Butcher Boy is the place to start with McCabe, it's stunning (I've seen it described as Ireland's Trainspotting, which strikes me as pretty apt). He went on to write some good books (The Dead School, Breakfast on Pluto) and some pretty average books (Mondo Desperado, the awful Emerald Germs of Ireland) and Winterwood is a definite return to form. He taps into a side of Ireland that just doesn't get written about very often. Wherever you start, I hope you enjoy him!
PS The film of The Butcher Boy is pretty good...

Stephen said...

I read this last year and thought it a very original work. I've been building up to reading "The Butcher Boy" ever since!

Logophile said...

Hi Stephen, hope you read The Butcher Boy soon! I think Francie Brady is what Redmond Hatch would be as a small boy in a small rural town in the Fifties.