By Lynn Willoughby
spill simmer falter whither ~ Sara Baume
This is a debut novel that is unsettling to say the least. The writing is beautiful and imaginative, the subject is funny and sad and horrifying.
Ray, the narrator, lives in a small coastal village in Ireland. He has never been out of his village and in fact only goes to the grocery store on Tuesdays. He never went to school, played outside his yard or had a friend. His father thought Ray …”wasn’t right-minded…wasn’t all there.” His father was not just neglectful – sometimes leaving the child alone for days, but he was down right cruel – leaving him at the side of the road at night time and driving himself home. He was cruel and unkind in every way – blaming the child for his mother’s death, not feeding him regularly, ignoring him most of the time.
When we first meet Ray he is fifty seven and sees himself as a troll who keeps to himself in his house full of books. It is only when he impulsively adopts a damaged, one-eyed dog who was a throw away when he is no longer a useful competitor in the sport of badger baiting, that Ray begins to see his boundaries. As Ray talks aloud to the dog, takes him on walks, buys him a collar and leash Ray becomes more human.
While Ray realizes that the dog is able to hear and smell far beyond human capabilities, he never seems to realize how attuned to nature he is himself. As he talks about flowers, birds, rivers, the moon, the tides, what people do all day we begin to see Ray as a compassionate, non-judgmental observationist whose idiosyncrasies of speech and thought I found completely endearing. I think it would be extremely interesting to have a conversation with him – but no one does, because of his hunch back, his warts, his dragging foot and his smell. Because he is so alone he talks to the dog as one would to a friend, wondering if the dog likes classical music: “I can’t be sure, but you seem to be listening.”
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this book. I felt like I was living it with Ray in all his loneliness. No matter how unloved and flawed we are Baume makes sure we never forget we each have qualities of grace that cannot be ignored.
I highly recommend this novel and in fact have pre-ordered her next one.
- A Line Made by Walking
Badger baiting is an illegal blood sport that involves the use of dogs sent into a badger’s burrow to pull it out. Typically the badger is killed in the process and dogs are frequently injured – often fatally, also. It has been outlawed in Ireland, England and Scotland since 1835 but is currently making a come back.