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My Coney Island Babyauthor: Billy O'Callaghan
publisher: Jonathan Cape (UK), USA)
Ireland has long been home — physically, culturally and metaphysically — to those with literary ambitions. Much of what defined the written avant-garde was created by Irish scribes such as Samuel Beckett, Flann O’ Brien or James Joyce. But the public notion of Irish literature often seemed fixed in time, sandwiched between the Rising and The Troubles. Yet, Ireland has fostered many more generations of literary lights who are just as, if not moreso, disruptive than their predecessors.
As one of Eire’s new literary lions, Corkman Billy O'Callaghan experiments not only with form but also time and space. In his second novel, “My Coney Island Baby,” O'Callaghan applies a skillful subtlety to make two outwardly ordinary characters and their interior lives engaging and derive meaning from their portrayals. “The Dead House,” his debut novel, had already won him praise for how he used supernatural tropes to create a haunting story.
This new book provides a sensitive look into two middle-aged lovers — who happen to be adulterers. Focusing on these two characters, with their spouses as background abstractions, O'Callaghan’s Michael and Caitlin are two flawed individuals who had accepted each other's imperfections while carrying on a 25-year affair. They’re equally locked in their marriages and the confines of the hotel rooms in which they meet. In simple but elegant language, he presents an intricate look inside a relationship — and the moment when it all is about to change. The book makes no moral judgment on their affair; just that it... is. And considering its origins in what was once one of the most Catholic of countries, this book is a quiet a taboo-breaker.
Evoking such established Irish authors as William Trevor and Colm Toibin, “My Coney Island Baby” reveals, within the course of one day, the histories, tragedies and even touching moments that define these two lives who have been stitched together into one seemingly intertwined cloth. And though much doesn’t happen outside, the notion of “Coney Island” adds a further element to the landscape of the book and producing conscious or unconscious reference to ideations of the place, as a play land, a Lou Reed song and its nature as a popular oceanside tourist spot.
And in the way it recalls repressed longings and melancholia, it harkens back to characters from Joyce’s “Dubliners” or Toibin's “Brooklyn,” in which some of the principals sleepwalk through life without emerging as a free and whole beings. hat existential malaise populates these tomes and others with Celtic influences. Yes, they’re adulterers and betrayers of those they've sworn to love (albeit getting married in the 20s) but from a novelistic point of view that only adds to the drama and tragedy of their lives — beautifully expressed by this fine chronicler of inner worlds.
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