Czesław Miłosz once observed that "when a writer is born into a family, the family is finished".
The Nobel prize-winning Polish poet was being overtly melodramatic to illustrate a pertinent point: a family narrative can never be considered off limits to the committed wordsmith seeking transcendental truth. Especially if those stories have been buried between generations to conceal unwanted feelings of shame and guilt.
This atavistic link to familial ghosts of history is something the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen called "present inheritance": when a psychological defect gets passed through the genes on to posterity. While the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung claimed connecting with "the ancestral soul" was paramount for achieving harmonious spiritual contentment.
Darran Anderson has come to understand these complex yet unavoidable ties with past kinship through a similar primordial prism. "We tend to the soil under which our ancestors lie," he writes with a direct succinctness that leaves just enough distance from the text to avoid descending into mawkish sentimentality.
The 40-year-old Derry writer knows a great deal about graveyards. His father was a groundsman in the local cemetery. It meant Anderson spent much of his childhood observing the ritualistic practice of funeral rites. But there were, of course, more obvious reasons to observe death at close quarters.
This was the bad old days of the Troubles. And Derry during the 1980s was a central battleground - where manic murder and sectarian strife was as normal as having a cup of tea. Although there are times when Anderson's formative years seem closer to Dickensian London. "Our house had no central heating, but it did have a Japanese room," he explains with dead pan, black Ulster humour.
The few giggles that momentarily surface in the book are well needed. Otherwise there isn't much else to laugh about.
Always wearing his heart on his sleeve, Anderson writes like a wise-old Celtic pagan sage: offering insightful aphorisms about life, death, violence, grief, and habit as he goes. Memory, time, and narrative are all subjective and circumstantial, he insists: coloured by personal agendas, traumatic experiences, and public reputations. Better then to let the music of mythology, poetry and artistic symbolism guide you to the wellspring of spiritual healing.
The symbolism of water flows through Anderson's narrative with Homeric and Biblical cadence. Its pulsating, violent rhythm is inspired from the water that runs from the river Foyle towards the Atlantic Ocean. It was this meandering final journey the writer's paternal grandparents tragically found themselves on, albeit two decades apart. Both threw themselves into the flowing waters of eternity when life on land no longer merited enough reasons to continue.
Lives cut tragically short and ending in "marginalia" is a prevalent theme of Inventory: a family memoir that takes the reader on a surrealist journey through five decades of tumultuous conflict - where public and private life continually bleed into one another so that the parameters between the domestic and the political and between secrets and lies cease to have fixed boundaries or clear cut demarcation lines.
Anderson has an obsessional fixation with borders: physical borders; mental borders; political borders; tribal borders; the borders between dreams and art; between violent beatings and passionate love affairs; between sanity and normality; between life and death; between beauty and filth; and between religious parables and local gossip. Growing up in a war zone, Anderson became accustomed to witnessing men of violence continually screaming how certain borders were not to be crossed. Sometimes it was representatives of Her Majesty's Armed Forces giving these orders; other times self-appointed paramilitary commanders acting as community watchdogs.
But with a pointed weapon close to hand, the message always sung the same mantra: step into the forbidden zone and you might get a bullet in the brain if you're not careful - so if you want to stay alive, keep your head down and don't ask any more questions.
By his teenage years, Anderson concluded that sectarian scaremongering masquerading as political truth was a permanent prison sentence of the mind. And so he turned to art, anarchism, literature and hedonism instead - finding cultish comfort in the uncertainty, ambiguity and endless possibility offered by Dadaists, symbolist poets, Greek gods and European modernists. Many are quoted at length here. Like his artistic heroes, Anderson treats history, rationality and power with absolute scepticism. Be wary of political ideologies and manifestos, he warns. They usually result in an intellectual and philosophical straitjacket prohibiting individual freedom.
Informal, poetic, intimate, emotional, sensitive, modernist, sophisticated, urbane, and brutally honest, Anderson's crystal clear, methodical prose attempts - and succeeds - to piece back together that illusionary story we call selfhood through a series of "photographs, documents, [and] contradictory fragments of memories."
A self-confessed atheist he may be, but Anderson finds a spiritual dimension in the nuanced art of secular storytelling: where narrative transcends suffering to make some semblance of sense amidst a whirling vortex of confusing chaos.