My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Date read: 26 August 2017
Published by Canongate, 2017
Verdict: A wonderful, wonderful look into one man’s life.
Marcus Conway has come a long way to stand in the kitchen of his home and remember the rhythms and routines of his life. Considering with his engineer’s mind how things are constructed – bridges, banking systems, marriages – and how they may come apart.
Mike McCormack captures with tenderness and feeling, in continuous, flowing prose, a whole life, suspended in a single hour.
Wonderfully and intricately structured in a way that demanded my full attention this is a portrait of a man’s life told in a single contemplative hour. Mike McCormack tells his story in a single sentence without proper punctuations and in places bending the rules of grammar to the limit – and it works absolutely beautifully. This lends the prose an immediacy and a poignancy that mesmerized me. This quiet novel tells of a quiet man – an engineer thinking about his life and the things important to him: his wife and two children; but also meditating on other things, politics, finance, art, the importance of ritual, and many things more. The flow is disjointed, jumping between times and topics and the result is a portrait of a man that feels complete but at the same time as if there could be so much more to him then even meets his inner eye.
I went into this book only knowing of its structure and nothing about its plot – and I am glad I did. I loved discovering more and more of the man Marcus Conway is and how he became that way.
This quiet but impactful little novel took me completely by surprise with how unpretentious it felt while reading and how much I enjoyed reading it (let’s be honest here: it could have been a pretentious mess in hands less talented). I am so very glad the book is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize because I don’t know if I had read it otherwise.
Normally I would now give you the first sentence. But given that the first sentence is also the only sentence I will end this review with one of my favourite passages that just glows with the love Marcus has for his wife:
coming upon her unawares like that, my wife of twenty-five years sitting in profile with her hair swept to her shoulder and her crooked way of holding her head whenever she was listening intently or concentrating, I saw that
a whole person and their life
cohered clearly around these few details and how, if ever his woman had to be remade, the world could start with the light and line of this pose which was so characteristic of her whole being, drawing down out of the ether her configuration, her structure and alignment, all the lines and contours which make her up as the women she was on that day