I wrote a story focused on Select Mutism and how the condition, if not eradicated, would impact an adult life. The story deals with themes of homelessness and mental instability, and my tutor Donal Ryan, upon reading it, recommended the following book…
‘This is writing at its most fearless: visceral and searing, yet textured and nuanced; the darkest of comedy and the deepest of insight.’ – Donal Ryan, author of The Thing About December, The Spinning Heart and All We Shall Know.
Thank you, Donal, for your own incredible insight, because this book felt like an extension of my mind from cover to cover. This may sound dubious once you learn what the subject matter of Martin John is as you read on, but I promise you, however deterring the main character may be on the surface, this book is one of substance, skill and an astonishingly accomplished understanding of those who live on the periphery of our society.
Schofield’s format is important to note. The first ten pages are of only one line, slowly trickling into longer and sporadic paragraphs along the page. This jolt and start system sets the tone for the structure of the book. Like stepping onto the tube where Martin John and the reader are forbidden to go by his mother.
WHAT WE KNOW…Do we though?
1. Martin John has made mistakes.
2. Check my card.
3. Rain will fall.
4. Harm was done
5. It put me in the Chair.
This refrain twists around in repetition, like an ivy vine weaving through the narrative, and evokes the cyclical and unaccountable mind of Martin John himself. What first confuses, slowly reveals itself to be darkly comic and heartbreaking. The ambiguous voice of the narrator questions the mental state of Martin John, his OCD and his sexual perversion, and in doing so allows the reader to delve into a mind that dishes up plates of shock and humour in equal measure.
The form of the novel would appear to disorientate the reader upon first glance, but Schofield’s seamless skill with sound and language captures the reader and ultimately leaves one empathetic with a sexual pervert. It allows us to question not only his own motives but those of the surrounding characters too.
Bye Bye Sanctimony.
Martin John may be mentally unwell, but is his mother too? Or Aunty Noanie? Or anyone, really, that may have a differing opinion to the norm, such as Mary in the end. We are all bound by constructs we willingly and unwillingly accept and until we are pushed to the extreme we do not know for sure how any one of us would react. Schofield interrogates the notion of sanctimony, in this west of Ireland voice we witness scenes of molestation, hysteria, dark comedy and insanity that we would otherwise never see in our day to day life. Thus, we sympathise with the characters that surround Martin John and their attempts to deal with his sickness but we are also in a position to judge how this people perceive themselves. They truly believe they are the sane ones and Martin John is the problem.
Is what I know what they know?
(Don’t worry, this is intentionally unclear)
Mam spends a short time trying to piece together whether she has any responsibility and we would like to think we would do the same in her position but as the trajectory progresses we notice she is guilty of her own inhumane acts, however she commits hers in the name of helping others, which begs the question, is she in the right?
Martin John commits acts of uncontrollable behaviour, is he in the right?
Aunty Noanie turns a blind eye and believes one visit with her a week will sort him out, is she in the right?
Mary in the train station seems to embody a concentrated version of these sanctimonious traits. Insistent of working under the name of God, she believes she is the only one to help, and yet when under pressure and faced with crisis this sanctimony dissolves to reveal pure self preservation. When pushed to the boundaries of what we deem acceptable we throw all previous notions of self righteousness out the window and resort back to our inherently human need to do what we think is right; to protect ourselves.
These boundaries of acceptability are different in every person, so be it molestation, forceful restraint, mental manipulation or self harm, we never know how our own character may behave until these boundaries are stretched near breaking point.
It is never defined, nor does it need to be (Again, this becomes clear after reading). Schofield’s nuanced throws of ambiguous form leaves us wondering not only what role do her characters play, but do we have a role to play in her world? A world that can eerily be found outside our own front door.
I am thrilled with this recommendation, and I hope you will be too. I have to agree with The New York Times and our very own Eimear McBride who states that Anakana Schofield employs some serious literary gumption. She is definitely one of my top favourite authors for pushing the boundaries of narrative and deserves a place on any literary-head’s bookshelf for showing us the power of a novel filled with linguistic twists!
She is an unapologetic powerhouse, and I cannot wait to read her debut, Malarky, and anything that follows.
As usual, let me know if you shared the same fascination with this book and comment below with any more suggestions!
You can also find me on Twitter @DarrenODea1 and Insta @darren_o_dea to keep updated on my experience of the Irish Literary Sphere.