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 Words of love, words of venom

Words of love, words of venom

Neil Hegarty
The Narrow Land, by Christine Dwyer Hickey, Atlantic Books, 384 pp, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1786496713 The cover art of Christine Dwyer Hickey’s novel The Narrow Land consists of a detail from Edward Hopper’s painting Sea Watchers (1952). Although the pair of figures in this piece are discovered seated on their terrace with the ocean before them, they gaze not at this glorious panorama, nor at each other – but at inward views, into atomisation, into the events of and spaces in their lives. They are enigmatic and silent, both twinned and apart; they grapple with – one imagines – the effect of words recently and unwisely spoken, as well as with the strain of what cannot be said. The painting vibrates with tension. The same might be said of The Narrow Land, which is an exercise not in explicit narrative momentum but rather in psychological insight. Dwyer Hickey has chosen as the novel’s epigraph Montaigne’s maxim that “Every man has within himself the entire human condition”: and she sets to work to encapsulate – and, wryly, to universalise – this remark by bringing a disparate group of characters together in a time and a place of sunshine and abundance, before setting to work to execute the shadows that are a necessary element in any such illuminated scene. The time is the summer of 1950, with the United States in a position of unrivalled dominance in the Western world, and entering a period of hitherto undreamt-of mass material prosperity. The place is the “narrow land” of Cape Cod, into which brass-bright milieu steps young Michael – Micha – who has been plucked as a Displaced Person from the ruins of postwar Europe to begin a new life in the new world. Michael is expected to embrace this fine proffered existence: the horrors he has witnessed must be shoved firmly into a history now dead and gone, and safely an ocean away. He is expected to “unlearn” – and fast. On Cape Cod too we find the “Aitches” – the fictionalised figures of Edward and Jo Hopper, who each in their own way are trapped, frozen, unhappy amid the sunlight and the trappings of the American dream. The Narrow Land is concerned to amplify in particular the inner life of Jo Hopper, who finds herself occupying a position only too familiar in history: that of the Wife, faithful, constant, willing to sublimate her own creative identity the better to further…

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