Fractured energies at the core of this humorous Hiberno-Gallic thriller
Fiction: One Star Awake, Andrew Meehan, New Island, €13.95
Amnesia sagas can often tip into incredulity in terms of how much the protagonist has carried forward with them from their previous incarnation. Andrew Meehan, a former head of development at the Irish Film Board, breathes new life into this subgenre in his debut novel by injecting humour and self-effacement into the existential riddle.
For a change, our amnesiac feels like a real entity rather than a cipher for a bit of nebulous intrigue.
The setting is Paris, particularly the 11th arrondissement, a hive of alleyways and squares that is suitably beguiling in itself. Here, an Irish girl comes toin a restaurant dressed for work as the kitchen porter.
She has no memory of how she came to be there. She has very little sense of herself or much in the way of what her predilections may be.
She knows that she is Irish from her accent and quickly works out what kinds of food seem to suit her palette. As if merely recovering from a lost weekend, she initially seems not wholly obsessed with her past.
What changes things is a chance encounter with a vaguely familiar man whom she dubs "Eagleback", which at once consumes her. After spotting him in a store, she begins to stalk him over the course of a summer, convinced that there is a connection between this man and who she once was.
The absence of clutter in her mind where her memories once sat has allowed for a state of heightened sensory awareness in the girl.
She drinks in the world and the people around her, at times trying to link what is before her eyes, what is overheard or what is picked up in a facial expression, with tenuous fragments of a past. This feeling of trying to hit a moving target gives One Star Awake a Teflon-coated atmosphere throughout that supplies it with thriller DNA.
Understandably, given the author's background, the trauma at the heart of the young woman's predicament is teased out with a cinematic rhythm.
Meehan gradually adds layers of padding to this husk of a human being without ever having to resort to trite reveals. He situates characters carefully around her - her boss, a lover, a psychotherapist, her parents - and then lets them muddy the waters in their own ways, as motives and inclinations toy with the truth.
You may pick up quiet ripples of repetition and a decidedly elliptical narrative as a knot in the mystery is loosened.
The bringing together of the Gallic and the Hibernian - the girl's parents do a sizeable amount of the funny-bone tickling - is one of the stronger cards in Meehan's hand, as is the wafting, muzzy-headed depiction of the protagonist's cognitive landscape.
If you plough through, however, expecting a rhythmic unfolding of the mystery to transpire in front of you, you may be disappointed by One Star Awake.
An immersed, free-flowing headspace is required to get the most out of this novel, one where, a little like our hero, trying too hard may just serve to blur the margins of perception.
It is interesting that it should arrive so close to Sean O'Reilly's Levitation, which employs a similarly fractured energy. A major difference is the affection Meehan has for the lost girl at the heart of his tale, and while she can cut a jagged dash, saving her humanity is always Meehan's central concern.
Sunday Indo Living