Saturday 18 November 2017

Man and dog tale makes for great debut

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sarah Baume, Tramp Press, €12
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sarah Baume, Tramp Press, €12
Anna Coogan

Anna Coogan

If ever you wondered who needed rescuing the most, a mangy dog in a pound or the person looking for canine companionship, you'll find yourself coming to a clear answer as you are drawn into the heart of the decrepit middle-aged male narrator of Sara Baume's debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sarah Baume, Tramp Press, €12

You've probably heard of Baume by now, because while this is her first novel, she won the reinstated 2014 Davy Byrne's Short Story Award for her story Solesearcher1, and so bagged the coveted €15,000 cheque which had aspiring writers all over the country all wound up.

The 31 year-old Cork resident completed an MPhil in creative writing at Trinity College following studying fine art at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and yet has subsisted on the dole or working casual jobs while honing her craft as a writer. Her debut novel is partially inspired by her adoption of 'a needy rescue dog' when she moved from a bedsit in Rathmines to a seaside village on the southern coast at the age of 28, and how together they "roamed the rocky coastline, gathering any interesting rubbish which drifted in on the tide."

Baume subscribes to the more-is-more school of description, and it is her long and winding descriptive passages which make us, the reader, feel like we are being drawn down and held down, feeling utterly submerged in this story, and which make Spill Simmer Falter Wither what can only be described as a submarine voyage of a read. Skimming any surface is anathema to Baume.

This is one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of 2015, and Baume's voice is captivating - she seduces, hypnotises and stills the reader, slowly and unhurriedly spooning out her story.

Ray, for we'll take a gamble and call our narrator by this name, is a 57-year-old loner and someone who would cause many of us to move along on a bench, so as not to sit too close to him, like misery might be contagious, and in spite of his name being "the same word as for sun beams, as for winged and boneless sharks."

But misery loves misery, and Ray rescues a dog who has seen better days, a one-eyed creature who has been mauled by a badger, and is jittery and untrustworthy.

As Ray talks to "One Eye", we learn of his life, yet it's when master and dog go on the run after "One Eye" develops a liking for biting children, that we see into Ray's heart - and the pitch-black secrets it holds.

This book is far from sentimental, and is a million miles from the movie Marley and Me, and yet when Ray takes on a needy dog, he becomes less frightening, forlorn and more friendly, and is truly rescued.

Sunday Independent

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