A tangled and blurred story

2007-02-01 00:00

PREVIOUS novels by Patrick McCabe have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and one, Breakfast on Pluto, was filmed and released last year, “to great acclaim” according to the cover blurb, which adds that Winterwood is his “most disturbing, original and accomplished yet”. All of which whetted the appetite for what was sure to be a great read.

Far from it, alas. The story is one of Redmond Hatch who, returning to his home in the middle of Ireland, encounters Ned Strange, a fiddler and teller of tales so seductive that he easily persuades local parents to bring their children to his Saturday morning dances. But Ned is (or perhaps he is not) a wicked being who taints all he touches, including the life of Redmond. Even after his marriage, Redmond finds himself haunted by Ned's shade, which steals into the enchanted kingdom of Winterwood inhabited by Redmond, his delicious wife Catherine and his adored little daughter Imogen. And Redmond's world disintegrates.

Ever-adaptable, though, he reinvents himself as Dominic Tiernan and builds himself a new working life in television and a new family life. Then one day, in Dublin, he spies Catherine again.

The first impression is that the whole thing is tangled and somehow blurred. Time keeps getting out of joint, as does place, and people flit in and out of scenes, sometimes almost as a flicker at the corner of one's eye, but never in clear focus.

Next, Redmond/Dominic is a pathetic non-entity one simply can't raise any sympathy for and whose potentially sinister final metamorphosis is scarcely credible. And then there's Ned, a powerful presence even in his absence, but never allowed to take centre stage.

The whole thing tries too strenuously to be enigmatic and yet fails to disguise the nasty something lurking in the background. A sorry start to my reading year.

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