Solar Bones

Solar Bones

by Mike McCormack


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Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize
Winner of the 2018 International Dublin Literary Award
Winner of the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize
Winner of the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year 
An Irish Times Book Club Choice

Solar Bones is a masterwork that builds its own style and language one broken line at a time; the result is a visionary accounting of the now.

A vital, tender, death-haunted work by one of Ireland’s most important contemporary writers, Solar Bones is a celebration of the unexpected beauty of life and of language, and our inescapable nearness to our last end. It is All Souls Day, and the spirit of Marcus Conway sits at his kitchen table and remembers. In flowing, relentless prose, Conway recalls his life in rural Ireland: as a boy and man, father, husband, citizen. His ruminations move from childhood memories of his father’s deftness with machines to his own work as a civil engineer, from transformations in the local economy to the tidal wave of global financial collapse. Conway’s thoughts go still further, outward to the vast systems of time and history that hold us all. He stares down through the “vortex of his being,” surveying all the linked circumstances that combined to bring him into this single moment, and he makes us feel, if only for an instant, all the terror and gratitude that existence inspires.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616958534
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/12/2017
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 314,924
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Mike McCormack is an award-winning novelist and short story writer from County Mayo in Ireland. His previous work includes Forensic Songs; Notes from a Coma, which was shortlisted for the Irish Book of the Year Award; Crowe’s Requiem; and Getting It in the Head, which was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He lives in Galway.

Read an Excerpt

the bell
  the bell as
  hearing the bell as
    hearing the bell as standing here
    the bell being heard standing here
    hearing it ring out through the grey light of this
    morning, noon or night
    god knows
    this grey day standing here and
    listening to this bell in the middle of the day, the middle of the day bell, the Angelus bell in the middle of the day, ringing out through the grey light to
    standing in the kitchen
    hearing this bell
    snag my heart and
    draw the whole world into
    being here
    pale and breathless after coming a long way to stand in this kitchen
    no doubt about that
    but hearing the bell from the village church a mile away as the crow flies, across the street from the garda station, beneath the giant sycamore trees which tower over it and in which a colony of rooks have made their nests, so many and so noisy that sometimes in spring when they are nesting their clamour fills the church and
    exhausted now, so quickly
    that sprint to the church and the bell
    yes, they are the real thing
    the real bells
    not a transmission or a broadcast because
    there’s no mistaking the fuller depth and resonance of the sound carried towards me across the length and breadth of this day and which, even at this distance reverberates in my chest
    a systolic thump from the other side of this parish, which lies on the edge of this known world with Sheeffry and Mweelrea to the south and the open expanse of Clew Bay to the north
    the Angelus bell
    ringing out over its villages and townlands, over the fields and hills and bogs in between, six chimes of three across a minute and a half, a summons struck on the lip of the void which gathers this parish together through all its primary and secondary roads with
    all its schools and football pitches
    all its bridges and graveyards
    all its shops and pubs
    the builder’s yard and health clinic
    the community centre
    the water treatment plant and
    the handball alley
    the made world with
    all the focal points around which a parish like this gathers itself as surely as
    the world itself did at the beginning of time, through
    mountains, rivers and lakes
    when it gathered in these parts around the Bunowen river which rises in the Lachta hills and flows north towards the sea, carving out that floodplain to which all roads, primary and secondary, following the contours of the landscape, make their way and in the middle of which stands
    the village of Louisburgh
    from which the Angelus bell is ringing, drawing up the world again
    mountains, rivers and lakes
    acres, roods and perches
    animal, mineral, vegetable
    covenant, cross and crown
    the given world with
    all its history to brace myself while
    standing here in the kitchen
    of this house
    I’ve lived in for nearly twenty-five years and raised a family, this house outside the village of Louisburgh in the county of Mayo on the west coast of Ireland, the village in which I can trace my seed and breed back to a time when it was nothing more than a ramshackle river crossing of a few smoky homesteads clustered around a forge and a log bridge, a sod-and-stone hamlet not yet gathered to a proper plan nor licensed to hold a fair, my line traceable to the gloomy prehistory in which a tenacious clan of farmers and fishermen kept their grip on a small patch of land
    through hail and gale
    hell and high water
    men with bellies and short tempers, half of whom went to their graves with pains in their chests before they were sixty, good singers many of them, all
    adding to the home place down the generations till it swelled to twenty acres, grazing and tillage, with access to open commonage on Carramore hill which overlooks the bay and
    this pain, this fucking pain tells me that
    to the best of my knowledge
    knowledge being the best of me, that
    there is something strange about all this, some twitchy energy in the ether which has affected me from the moment
    those bells began to toll, something flitting through me, a giddiness
    drawing me
    through the house
    door by door
    room by room
    up and down the hall
    like a mad thing
    bedrooms, bathroom, sitting room and
    back again to the kitchen where
    such a frantic burst
    not so much a frantic burst as a rolling crease in the light, flowing from room to room only to find
    this house is empty
    not a soul anywhere
    because this is a weekday and my family are gone
    all gone
    the kids all away now and of course Mairead is at work and won’t be back till after four so the house is mine till then, something that should gladden me as normally I would only be too happy to potter around on my own here, doing nothing, listening to the radio or reading the paper, but now the idea makes me uneasy, with four hours stretching ahead of me till she returns,
    alone here for four hours
    four hours till she returns so
    there must be some way of filling the span of time that now spreads out ahead of me, something to cut through this gnawing unease because
    the paper
    that’s what I’ll do
    the daily paper
    get the keys of the car and drive into the village to get the paper, park on the square in front of the chemist and then stand on the street and
    this is what I will do
    stand there for as long as it takes for someone to come along and speak to me, someone to say
    or until someone salutes me in one way or another, waves to me or calls my name, because even though this street is a street like any other it is different in one crucial aspect – this particular street is mine, mine in the sense of having walked it thousands of times
    man and boy
    winter and summer
    hail, rain and shine so that
    all its doors and shop-fronts are familiar to me, every pole and kerbstone along its length recognisable to me
    this street a given
    this street is something to rely on
    fount and ground
    one of those places where someone will pass who can say of me
    yes, I know this man
    or more specifically
    yes, I know this man and I know his sister Eithne and I knew his mother and father before him and all belonging to him
    or more intimately
    of course I know him – Marcus Conway – he lives across the fields from me, I can see his house from the back door
    or more adamantly
    why wouldn’t I know him, Marcus Conway the engineer, I went to school with him and played football with him – we wore the black and gold together
    or more impatiently
    I should know him, his son and daughter went to school with my own – we were on the school council together
    or more irritably
    of course I know him – I lent him a chainsaw to cut back that hawthorn hedge at the end of his road and
    so on and so on
    to infinity
    the basic creed in all its moods and declensions, the articles of faith which verify me and upon which I have built a life in this parish with all its work and rituals for the best part of five decades and
    this short history of the world to brace myself with
    standing here in this kitchen, in this grey light and wondering
    why this sudden need to rehearse these self-evident truths should press so heavily upon me today, why this feeling that there are
    thresholds to cross
    things to be settled
    checks to be run
    as if I had stepped into a narrow circumstance bordered around by oblivion while
    looking for my keys now
    frisking my pockets and glancing around, only to see that
    Mairead has beaten me to the job, she has been out early and bought the papers – not one but two of them, local and national, both lying in the middle of the table neatly folded into each other, the light glossing unbroken across their surface, making it clear she has not read them herself that I might have the small pleasure of opening up a fresh newspaper, hearing it rattle and creak as it discloses itself, one of those experiences which properly begin the day or the afternoon as is the case now, turning it over and leafing through it
    starting at the back, the sports pages, to read the headline
    Hard Lessons in Latest Defeat
    as if this were the time and the place for a sermon
    which prompts me to close it again quickly, not wanting any homily at this hour of the day with the paper showing the date as
    November 2nd, the month of the Holy Souls already upon us, the year nearly gone so
    what happened to October
    come and gone in a flash, the clocks gone back for winter time only last week and
    the front-page stories telling that the world is going about its relentless business of rising up in splendour and falling down in ruins with wars still ongoing in foreign parts – Afghanistan and Iraq among others – as peace settlements are being attempted elsewhere – Israel and Palestine – while closer to home, the drama is in a lower key but real nonetheless – bed shortages in hospitals and public sector wage agreements under pressure – all good human stories no matter how they will pan out, you can feel that, the flesh and blood element twitching in them, while at the same time
    in the over-realm of international finance other, more abstract indices are rising and falling to their own havoc – share prices, interest rates, profit margins, solvency ratios – money upholding the necessary imbalances so that everything continues to move ever forward while on one of the inside pages there is
    one year on
    a long article with an illustrative graph and quotes outlining the causes and consequences of our recent economic collapse, a brief résumé of events that culminated on the night of September 29th, feast of the archangel Michael – the night the whole banking system almost collapsed and the country came within a hair’s breadth of waking the following morning to empty bank accounts and
    for clarity’s sake
    this article is illustrated by a sidebar which gives some indication of just how outsized the nation’s financial folly was in the years leading up to the collapse, debt piling up till it ran to tens of billions, incredible figures for a small island economy, awe-inspiring magnitudes which shifted forever the horizons of what we thought ourselves liable for and which now, stacked on top of each other like this – all those zeroes, glossy and hard, so given to viral increase – appear like
    the indices and magnitudes of a new cosmology, the forces and velocities of some barren, inverse world – a negative realm that, over time, will suck the life out of us, that collapse which happened without offering any forewarning of itself, none that any of our prophets picked up on anyway as they were
    all apparently struck dumb and blind, robbed of all foresight when surely this was the kind of catastrophe prophets should have an eye for or some foreknowledge of but didn’t since it is now evident in hindsight that our seers’ gifts were of a lesser order, their warnings lowered to a tremulous bleating, the voices of men hedging their bets and without the proper pitch of hysterical accusation as they settled instead for fault-finding and analysis, that cautionary note which in the end proved wholly inadequate to the coming disaster because pointing out flaws was never going to be enough and figures and projections, no matter how dire, were never likely to map out the real contours of the calamity or prove to be an adequate spell against it when, without that shrill tone of indictment, theirs was never a song to hold our attention and no point whatsoever meeting catastrophe with reason when what was needed was
    our prophets deranged
    and coming towards us wild-eyed

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