Tuesday 16 January 2018

Fiction: Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland by Mia Gallagher

New Island, €14.99

Anne Cunningham

At nearly 500 pages long, Mia Gallagher's second novel is quite a tome. But then, her themes are big. Huge. The dispossessed people of the Sudetenland, for instance. There's also transsexuality, bereavement, terrorism, parenthood, estrangement, exile, rape …the whole sticky mess of humanity and inhumanity is here.

The book opens with a bomb in the London underground on St Patrick's Day. Watching the horror unfold in her Inchicore flat, Georgia begins recording an audio letter to her estranged father. And through this letter, returned to at different hours through the day, Georgia's story unravels. Terrorism is not new to her, having grandparents in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Her childhood nanny, Lotte, has also been touched by terrorism. Lotte's brother, a member of Baader-Meinhof, has blown himself up in Germany. Most of the novel happens in the 1970s, a place that we like to remember with rose-tinted specs. But it wasn't so rosy, as Gallagher reminds us.

The bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, for instance, are touched on, as is the similar unrest in West Germany. Lotte's mother, Anna, is interviewed about her expulsion from the Sudetenland after WWII, and throughout the novel there's the leitmotif of the Wunderkammer, a museum of sorts, revealing the horrors of WWII in Bohemia.

This is a massively ambitious novel, one which the author herself has described as Cubist. It's a pastiche of pieces involving different people, times and places, all either fragmented from the same nucleus or converging on the same canvas, depending on your viewpoint. I'm just not sure if all the pieces fit. But as a case study in loneliness and abandonment, it's hard to better.

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