After quite a long gap, I am pleased to be hosting another Landing Author guest post. Over the last couple of years, I have had guest posts from some lovely writers, beginning with Andrés Neuman in April 2012 and most recently, Juliet Greenwood last August. As you can see, it has been quite a while… In looking back, I note that I have said the very same thing before so perhaps I need a better ‘Author Routine’ to keep me regular.
My impetus for (trying) to get into gear again with guest posts, was Caitriona Lally giving a talk at our Liberties Upstairs Culture Club event recently. In parallel, we read Eggshells for the Upstairs book club. I mentioned in my last post that I would like to ask her to contribute a Landing post, and she very kindly agreed. I will post up Caitriona’s piece on Friday 17 July and leave you with a taster for now. As I have now declared my Liberties Press interest[i], I am not going to offer a review of Eggshells. What I will do however is to give you part of Sarah Gilmartin’s review in the Irish Times (6 June) to introduce you to Eggshells, and its unusual protagonist Vivian Lawlor:
Vivian is a self-professed changeling, left by fairies to compete with her parents’ human child, also called Vivian. With the parents dead, the two adult Vivians are all that remain. Human Vivian is married with children and uninterested in her sister’s strange ways. The narrator lives alone in her great-aunt’s house, filling her days with sugary treats, dressing up and a variety of bizarre pastimes as she seeks a way out of this world and back to her own.
It is an interesting set-up, with a clever ambiguity surrounding the narrator. The book is rooted in the natural world of contemporary Dublin, but to Vivian’s eyes this is a fairytale world, full of rules of threes and sixes, and potential gateways to supernatural lands. How much of her changeling status is fictional, the delusions of a severely disturbed character, is left for the reader to puzzle over. This question gives momentum to Vivian’s escapades. It also, somewhat unexpectedly, provides plenty of laughs in a book full of one-liners.
Much of the humour comes from the author’s preoccupation with language and wordplay. Vivian tells a social worker enquiring about her job prospects: “I am open-minded. Sometimes I wear my slippers on the opposite feet to change my worldview.” As she searches for portals across the city – St Stephen’s Green, Glasnevin cemetery, the canals, the Liffey bridges – her literal take on language brings about many absurd situations. The need for precision in language is a major theme, with Vivian constantly drawing attention to the gap between speech and meaning. “I wake on a damp pillow,” she tells us. “My dreams must have leaked.”
A loose plot develops out of this affinity with language when Vivian pins a notice to a tree: “I want a friend called Penelope. When I know her well enough, I’ll ask her why she doesn’t rhyme with Antelope.” The new friend, actually called Elaine, is another oddball character. Struggling herself with mother issues and an obsession with painting cats, Elaine/Penelope doesn’t judge. More importantly, she promises she’ll organise a vertical burial for Vivian, which is all Vivian has ever wanted in a friend.
The black comedy gives the book a jaunty quality that complements the dazzling trip around Dublin. From the “soot-streaked backs of the buildings at the junction of George’s Street and Dame Street” to the “fierce bang of hops from the Guinness factory, a smell somewhere between meat and toffee”, Lally uses Vivian’s otherworldly perspective to bring the city to life.
Caitriona, a lover of words who confesses to having no proper writing routine, has written a post for us about her obsession with other writers and their routines. I won’t spoil the blog post by telling you about any writerly habits that you may or may not wish to emulate (on Friday you can judge the wisdom of those mentioned).
I was delighted to realise that Caitriona’s post will be the 200th post on The Landing! See you on Friday…
About the author:
Caitriona Lally studied English Literature in Trinity College Dublin. She has had a colourful employment history, working as an abstract writer and a copywriter alongside working as a home help in New York and an English teacher in Japan. She has travelled extensively around Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Her essay about Grangegorman appeared in a recent issue of We Are Dublin. Eggshells was selected as one of twelve finalists in the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair 2014.
Picture credits: Liberties Press and the Irish Times.