Thursday 22 March 2018

Review: The Only Glow of the Day by Martin Malone

New Island, €12.99, Paperback

Set amid the civil war violence of 1922, Martin Malone's last novel, The Silence of the Glasshouse, was adapted from a radio play he wrote for RTE and was, he said, based on historical fact. So, too, apparently is this new book, which is also reworked from a radio play that was broadcast on RTE.

The time here is the 1860s and the setting is the Curragh, where young Rosanna goes to meet up with Johnny, the soldier who has made her pregnant. Rosanna is so innocent she believes that suave opportunist Johnny will be both thrilled to see her and delighted at news of her pregnancy.

In fact, she only gets to encounter him, and then unsatisfactorily, halfway through the book.

In the meantime she has to eke out a bleak existence with prostitutes who ply their trade on the wintry Curragh plains and who live in savage conditions under furze bushes.

These, according to the author, were known as "wren women", and in this account of their story they're shunned both by respectable society and a brutal clergy, used and abused by the soldiery and harassed by local rangers who either eject them from their makeshift hovels or prey on them financially.

Malone, an ex-soldier who has written a memoir of his time serving with UN forces in the Lebanon, evokes the scene vividly and introduces a couple of sympathetic characters -- a kindly, but weak-willed, ranger and a concerned, but sickly, English journalist who has been sent over by Charles Dickens to report on the women's plight.

Rosanna, though, remains too dimwitted -- and also too dimly realised -- to sustain interest as a central character, and it's hard to accept either her credulous naivete in the earlier chapters or her subsequent abruptly rendered transformation into a prostitute.

The book's other drawback is its curious prose, in which odd, and frequently archaic locutions strain unsuccessfully for poetic effect: "She opened the lid and surfaced stubs of candles"; "His hand went high and stormed hard to the counter"; "A sweep of rain assailed the window"; "She snuffed a flicker of remorse"; "She thought it was in him to wash her face with his foam" -- or, to put it another way, she thought he was going to spit on her. Cliches abound, too ("Eyes danced in her head, a mischievous twinkle in one"), as well as careless solecisms --"comprised of" features more than once.

This is a pity because the story Malone has to tell is intriguingly unfamiliar and his shaping and pacing of the narrative is adroitly managed.

Irish Independent

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