Liam Carson’s Call Mother a Lonely Field (Seren/Poetry Wales Press) has been shortlisted, along with Patrick Flanery’s Absolution, Gavin Francis’s Empire Antarctica, Philip Hensher’s Scenes from Early Life, Sarah Moss’s Names for the Sea and Zadie Smith’s NW, for the 2013 Royal Society of Literature/Ondaatje Prize.
The prize, worth £10,000, is awarded annually to a work of the highest literary merit evoking the spirit of a place. For Carson, that place is Belfast, a particular Belfast and at a particular time. The book, the Irish Independent wrote,
celebrates both [Carson’s] parents with equal love and affection, even if there is clearly a closer bond with the mother. His father, William Carson, a postman, became entranced by the Irish language, and, self-taught, became a teacher, writer and savant, embraced the gaelic culture and way of life in an urban society with his Irish speaking wife and household.
This is the landscape mapped so mordantly by Hugo Hamilton in The Speckled People, although Carson père, or Liam MacCarráin, comes across as reasonable and paternalistic when compared with the corrosive obsessiveness of Hamilton’s father.
Carson presents the sights, the sounds, the smells, the essential character of the Falls Road of the period.There is, too, the picture of a family culturally immersed in Irish in an English-speaking environment, the children caught between conflicting cultures with constantly variable rates of exchange, but not, apparently, politically committed.