Greater than a story: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimer McBride

lesser-bohemians

When many hear the world “Ireland,” thoughts of many  rise with tedious predictability: border, violence, sexual repression, drunks.  Eimear McBride’s new novel, The Lesser Bohemians at once engages and shatters these stereotypes.

McBride uses the modernist style to bring the reader inside the self of her main character, Eily, as the 18-year-old woman crosses her own borders: from childhood to independence; from Ireland to England; from innocence to experience; from loneliness to love.  Her language  and insight are at times obscure but more often breathtaking, bracing and brilliant.  The reader experiences the world of Eily from inside herself, almost as if the reader has become a dissociated personality of the character.   McBride captures the essential nature of being young, unschooled, and protected but venturing into a wider world filled with the beauty of unknown art and literature, the challenges of education, and the hazards of sexual innocence.   Eily asks herself, when she visits an art gallery “Seek to feel but think instead and wonder if that’s wrong I’m a God’s fair innocent after all when it comes to galleries too.”; and the reader is immediately returned to one’s own initiations.  Eily in the initial stage of the novel is searching for her identity:”  Why am I. Why am I not. Where’s even the way to could? I’m not lost. Or not lost much. Lonely. It is that and I don’t know what to do.” As she moves through her first months at a London Drama School she acknowledges: “tried by the weight of all I don’t know.”

As she moves through that first year away from Ireland and engages in a relationship with a man whose name is not revealed until well into the novel, a famous actor, more than twice her age, constricting his life, nonetheless, to an untidy bedsit, Eily confronts her own demons: “Thy will be done. Satan under every skin. Skinful under all our skin.”  Her sexual initiation begins from a place of fear and shame” To spite myself, for him,  To hurt myself. I open my thighs saying Lads, do anything. Nothing matters and it is nothing…Shame fuses to silence letting the night maraud.While like watching TV, I watch. , killing bit by bit the useless hope of not being this girl I was. Am. She is…” And yet, Eily continues the journey of transformation from a shy Irish girl of the 1990’s (“Ireland is what it is. Sealed in itself, like me…”) into a woman who enjoys and even needs sensual and sexual fulfillment:  “Strange to my skin, him kissing somewhere else. Stranger to be on the outside, recreating its taste…”  Another achievement of McBride in this novel is to write with ferocious clarity about Eily’s emerging sexuality and her pleasure.

McBride moves to a more conventional narrative style, without losing the poetic cadence that appears natural to her, as the novel explores the love story itself. Perhaps, McBride is allowing her prose style to reflect  how Eily has moved from her lonely confusion and sense of isolation into  the satisfactions and pathos of an actual relationship which must exist or fail to exist on more levels than the purely physical or sensual.  Eily is permitted to articulate her own wisdom, “the opposite of love is despair” while retaining her haunting perception.  This transition of narrative style creates a less thrilling engagement of the reader but does not diminish the work.  Instead, McBride has creatively employed narrative technique to amplify the characters experience.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. Notwithstanding, McBride’s novel remains, to date, my reading highlight of the year.

Vape-ing

Cloud_sky_over_Brest

Whose face it was I saw today, white vapors collected amid clearest blue,  skyward atop crashing sea?  Was it delirium of sunlight allowed the fleeting visage in that overhead expanse? Tender face filled with pain but calling, no, not crying, and was it to me alone, or others, likewise pleasuring in the autumnal generosity like a summer day? I could see you, but could not hear your call above thundering waves, so high and white, magnificent, delivering surfers and their boards  to all the seagulls and plovers to whom the  sands have been returned for these many days and weeks and months to come – nor do I know your face.  Can there be, already and so soon,  so many friends, I need to look to faces in the skies for they are vanished from the places we so loved and only I still walk upon?

Years, decades, last century, a small child by her bicycle in a deserted alleyway, bleeding from a tarnished fender and discarded glass among the stones and brambles and the broken asphalt, the urban garden, watched vapors gather into a beatific vision, so filled was her little mind and heart and sense of candlelight and choirs and the scent of sacred incense.  She stood shaking in the wintry wind defying expectations until darkness, encroaching, goaded her to, disappointed, cycle home  breathing earthly air and living still.

More near, upon the blackness of a distant shore at the edge of western history, she spied another face within the mottled skies and heard the songs of that peacock sea brimming then with promise that if she closed her eyes and studied not the skies or surf or volcanic stones spinning urgently beneath her, but the swell of her own heart and mind, the sounds of her children playing, she could find justice, a companion and a guide, like the shifting vapors, fleeting to discern, and yet essential.

http://www.blogsbywomen.org.

for love of god

for love of  god, so many slain across the miles and still today.  the zealot in his practiced way keeps holy all the corners of his world.  sunup, sundown, midday, midnight, a ritual, a code that can be known, recited and repeated and recorded and itself revered, as if it,the ritual, the code, the canon of those things that must be holy, delivers sanctuary.   the holy man will never hear the gnashing of the teeth and tearing of the flesh upon the battlefields or in the tenements and old age homes or on the streets even in the curtained dreams of the powdered and the pampered congregations that flock to the worship halls, the temples and the churches giving of their riches or their poverty to something certain that they may  clutch through the long and frightening nights and desperate days when wars are fought for  love of god.

for love of god, she is cast away, among the shunned, her name not spoken; no other creed can be for them as good as their own: any children born will not be blood of this family, though they have the same dark crescent shape in the brown color of  the eye.  nearly, above all else, family is  holy, to be honored, gloried, cherished manifest power and security, prosperity, unity,the living demonstration of the goodness of the natural order. no forgiveness, only banishment, for she who chose to take a step away, to give her love,to break the code, to make a life with one who has a different creed, to place her own happiness, her self, above community, above the love of god.

for love of god, he held the light of life within his hands and then ended it.  piously, he spoke the words he learned when he became a man, calling out all honor and praise to the powerful being, but secretly he was shamed,  he felt the thrill of power and of control. absolution:  all those days and nights he had fevered in fear; all the times he had watched, helpless, as the enemy had unjustly harmed the innocent in his way.  a life extinguished. power gained. wealth advances.  absolution. all those many days and nights provisos of the creed disregarded, an act, a life, a gift, for love of god.

for love of god, they gather at the wedding and the funeral and the birthright. the first estate takes center stage and recites well-known verses ascribing meaning to tired phrases that sound old and common. in chic hotels, in firehalls, in cemeteries, in cozy parlours, the great moments of a life are clouded by the creed.  the preaching zealot distracts, frightened that he is without words to reach these primal moments, for in his time of rehearsing and rehashing and reshaping his ritual, he has abandoned the essence of connection and of living for his love of god.

 

http://www.blogsbywomen.org.

 

Looking in

dance hall

I do not remember the color of the walls,

or whether  windows were squared or arched as light gained entry.

I cannot recall the height the ceilings reached,

but I remember feeling very, very small.

I see that place, always, on a grey day in winter,

when  naked sentries, aging walnut trees, tower and spill,

the grounds haphazardly attired with twigs and ice and remnants of decay.

The architecture arrests,

reaches towards the skies, billows towards the city,

soiled  white stucco, sandstone, a fortress,

here in this park of urban land:

a haven for the immigrants,

the wanderers, the homesick,

the ones who come and linger as though they  arrive from some other  time and world.

And for the likes of me,

the small and watchful child of such as these.

Though I tread lightly through these halls which echo

always

with a voice I cannot speak,

a tongue I do not know,

songs I may have heard, but with studied intent,  have not been taught.

I am like a shadow.

Or a figment.

This place is like a dream sometimes.

When I stand aside the squares of parquet that form the dance floor,

 smell the powder and the perfume and the pomade upon the heavy hair,

I hear the swish of the wide, swinging skirts, stiff silk swaying,

keeping time with the scratch of shirts, the slide of shoes,the faint tingle of jewels,

a underbeat to the third-rate band.

I see the faces, hot, red, still lined with worry,

though eyes are closed and lips control the smile;

Bodies, stiff and proper and respectful:

Pride!

I see a swell of pride –

It courses through the sea of bodies, crammed together, so formal on that floor,

like a cold stiff wind, it invigorates, it braces.

I watch love, congealed and messy,

not a pink froth cotton confection tied with bows.

Not just age and generation,

not merely language and the style of speech,

more than jewels that sparkle,

or  a song list canon

or deportment –

I stand apart, because I am

Not truly one of them at all.

http://www.blogsbywomen.org.

 

 

To Welcome a New Life

Just after midsummer, a new baby will be born.

Love penetrates the heart  before the eye discovers. Already,unknowing, I have selected  a fine, wide cloth, now waiting adornments. The tapestry as yet unknown.

Joy, anticipating him….

I cherish his velvet skin, delicious, pure for so brief a time. The tiny fist so tightly clenched inspires the effort of living.  His baby smell, effervesced, but still sublimely sweet, exhilarates.

Hair matted against his face, heat of day too much;  his sweat, as all his little life,  extreme.

Whispers of wind, (or call of birds? ) rattle giggles from him.  His busy, boundless journey remains singular, for a time.

He and I do not share blood, or cells or chromosomes.

But he is kindred, still.

Will the unspawned babes of my own young grow up with him,  grasping vibrant  mantle of childhood in accord?   Will attic rooms reverberate each season once again, snickers, shrieks recalling silly scenes of the holiday table? Will summer tents contain their giggles and their shouts when scary stories are unleashed in the darkened wood? Will they  join with him, the oldest one,  when they  denounce the demons of the life they find themselves confronting?

Or will this baby merely be, first, the infant,then, the child, and finally, the man  I love dearly from afar, whom I know not well enough to fill my life?

Time holds the answer and it will be one way or other other.

Joy.  Expectancy.

Now I apprehend his weight, his  warmth, the soft pattern of his breathing.

The reminder, once again, that we can be our best selves, sometimes, when we allow ourselves to simply live.

 

   

http://www.blogsbywomen.org/

2013-10-02 05.08.42

Forgiveness

                                                           

                 The Past is never behind us.                                                                                          Robert Bolaño, The Part About Critics

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.                                                                                         Eleanor Roosevelt                 

                                                                                      

April accepts longer hours of sunlight,conceding with ambivalence cold winds will warm and whisper life into the dead and barren trees.  The hillside regards the once frozen canal which, halting, softens until the sepia waters offer sanctuary once again to tadpoles, turtles and walleye and permit refreshment to geese and songbirds returned for summer.  Bordering ridges  carpeted with shaggy bits of lifeless foliage  spawn shocks of color: purple, pink, yellow: Violet, Sorrel, Thistle, Milkweed, Phlox, Anemone. The sound of life is silken, subtle, an orchestration  at once unpracticed and sublime.  Springtime perfumes with intoxicating simplicity.  The moment offers unconstrained contentment.  Spring absolves  past cruelties of other seasons, nurturing life, generous, assured.

Traffic on the street fractures contentment. The horn shivers theatrically down the small town street.  Shoppers tote packages marked with identification:    “I am expensive,” “I am chic,” “I  am  used goods.”  Cell phones supplant conversation between partners and among families as the time for the excursion concludes.  Acquaintances smile at one another across the asphalt, and then each one quickly demonstrates preoccupation and turns away.

The radio names yet another aggrieved person, fallen victim to the endless cycle of domination for the right or might of the Other group guided by religion, wealth, nationality, political philosophy  or control of land. Justice is reported denied by protesters on the corner who demand a life sentence, not twenty years, for the convict who drunkenly extinguished the life of the child.  A vast  amount of dollars are awarded to the survivors whose river land was despoiled  by thick, black  oil.

The actor struggles to contain a rage which contorts the handsome face that fills the screen.  Provincialism spawning shame he could acknowledge.  Shame punished as a crime he could not accept.   For crime committed against the shamed, he would have vengeance.  The greater retribution as the outrage is compounded by deceit.

Philomena privately recalls  the  precise contours of  her injury.  Its depth, its size, its never-ending pain.  She shields herself as a simple-minded woman.  Her full heart accepts a world she has never known.  She apprehends that her son, too, endured ritualized shamining to protect the power of those in charge.  She possesses her experience, her pain and her trauma as her personal history which no other can apprehend nor own.  This empowers her to confer forgiveness upon  her aggressors.  She chooses to move beyond the moment of her loss.

Philomena’s story is not one of reconciliation.  It is a story of a woman’s power to regenerate against all odds.