I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Glimmering in the Dark

Glimmering in the Dark

Ross Moore
The Jewel, by Neil Hegarty, Head of Zeus, 355 pp, € 14.99, ISBN: 978-1789541816 Neil Hegarty’s second novel opens in 1839 as an artist prepares for her greatest work. The artist, we learn, is Emily Sandbourne, who created colours “as though lit from within” but whose work was neglected by her contemporaries (“the gents didn’t take her seriously”). We meet her as she is purchasing linen on which to produce what will be her final piece. Sandbourne is dying and she means to produce a piece in distemper, whose “colours will sing” and, uniquely for the medium, last. Sandbourne intends to bury the piece with her when she dies, picturing its “shine and swell in the darkness”. Whether the motive was a final rejection of an establishment that never made room for her or an extreme example of art for art’s sake, events turn out slightly differently from she planned. Descendants disinter the grave and the painting ends up held as a “small curiosity” by the National Gallery in Dublin, fashions change as we approach the present day and the painting becomes valued for its “gorgeousness, its utter uniqueness”. Instead of illuming the darkness of the grave, it glows in the minds of the novel’s protagonists – each psychically wounded to a different degree, each with their own relationship (ranging from the criminal to the self-sacrificing) to the painting. Neil Hegarty is a writer from Derry whose first novel, Inch Levels, dealt profoundly with unspoken histories, and the effect these have on personal and family relationships. In the world of Inch Levels the harms done range from the horrific to the mundane but the suffering endured is due as much to the inability to voice past hurts as to the hurts themselves. That novel covered a lot of ground, encompassing history, politics and the recent conflict with great subtlety. The recurrent bombs, which don’t directly affect the protagonists but which cause their suburban windows to tremble, symbolise the effect of the Troubles on the lives of Hegarty’s narrators. They are also reflective of the novel’s procedures as it depicts trauma rippling through the silence of the characters. An image which appears early in Inch Levels overlaps with the conceit of Hegarty’s current novel; as the central protagonist lies dying in hospital, he thinks: I should grasp at the chance to find shapes in my life. I should not write a journal, but instead create a…

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