We chose this book after having voted the author’s ‘At Swim Two Boys’ one of our favourites. Most of us, however, were disappointed with this book. The author writes well but the story was irritating and didn’t flow.
All the characters are Irish stereotypes and the story becomes ever more bizarre. Is the boy fourteen or sixteen? Did his mother die recently or during labour? Are the characters real or are they merely inside the by’s head as he descends into a mental breakdown?
Nilus uses his bedroom as a refuge and behaves ion an OCD manner with his sheets, pyjamas and jigsaw, which has a piece missing on the day his mother died. The dresser in the kitchen is a shrine to his mother and the boy is very anxious then there is a cup with a chip at the front.
He is very detached from others: I didn’t like our street. Our street made me nervous. It sort of depressed me. I never spent a moment longer in it than was absolutely necessary. It was full of low cottages without gardens. The front doors led straight on to the street. Sometimes they left the doors open. And then you’d have to see wallpaper and things, smell other people’s cooking. I could do without snatches of these neighbours’ lives. They were the sort of places tradesmen-like people lived in
He worries: needless to say, I had difficulty sleeping that night. I kept worrying I might fall into a coma in the night and wake up buried deep in the dark and dread of my extremity. Then it got worse. I worried my mother hadn’t really died at all, but had fallen to a deep slumber. Even now, this night, more than a year after, she might be turning slightly in her sleep, moaning softly. She would wake up. She would wake up and her fingers would stretch out and they would touch against something unexpected, velvety, soft. It was too dark to see, she felt about blindly, touching at first, then crushing her fingers. But everywhere she touched there was only the soft, half-satin, half-velvet confinement. Or dirt. Dirt had got in. She hated dirt. It would drive her frantic, sensing the dirt around her, near her mouth, maybe, trickling up her nose. And she couldn’t move. And in her desperation, she turned her mouth to her arm, the beautiful soft skin of her arm, the milk skin she was so proud of, soft like a kitten’s fur, she called it. And she forced her mouth to open, with her pearly perfect teeth, but, before she would bite, she creaked her gaze towards me, all pain and reproach, but her eyes weren’t there, were eaten away, just sockets in her skull, and she said, ‘Why, Nilus? Why did you finish the jigsaw?
I rearranged the drawstring on my pyjama bottoms, found my dressing-gown and slippers. I turned on every light on the way down. It would’ve annoyed my mother — ‘the Christmas tree’, she used call the house. ‘Have we shares in the Electricity Board?’ — But I could do without the dark, tonight.
I put the kettle on. I sat down at the table, in front of the dresser. I didn’t want to look at it, but it fought for my attention. I’d left the dresser, when my mother finally died, exactly as she had left it. All chipped, cracked, rubbly. I’d known then that nothing could preserve my world from the chaos of her departure. Everything would end. The dresser was her shrine now, as in life it had been the altar to the orderliness of our home.
He dislikes disruption to his daily routine: I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. I was quite capable of looking after myself. I always cooked the meals at home. The one time, after my mother’s death, that my father tried his hand in the kitchen, I’d been served up something virescent.
I had a feeling that everything was out of control, or that I had no control over anything any more.
He likes the same menu every week.
He is obsessed with bringing some sort of order to his increasingly chaotic life: All those pieces crying out for arrangement, for order. To be something.
Does he have Asperger’s Syndrome? In a sex lesson he misunderstands ‘temple’ –is he taking it literally or has he simply not heard of the metaphor before?
What is it with the exhibitionism before Fr. Mucahy? This is where we started to wonder if the story was real. Especially when he says that he can’t see the ‘sperm’ on hand after masturbating
His use of triplications isn’t so unusual. Other intelligent teenagers do it, e.g. in the play Bar Mitzvah Boy.
His Father has a thing about nudity. He only baths once a week, though that was normal in Britain just before that time. The house is falling to bits he takes Nilus to daily mass, usually arriving late (or is this Nilus’s need for routine and perfectionism?).
Nilus doesn’t like him talking about anything sexual: `They’re the ones with the bosoms, for God’s sake.’
He was that capable of vulgarity.
`Have you got your three Rs?’ he asked.
`My three Rs?’
`Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.’
`Of course I have.’
`That’s all right then.’
`What’s all right?’
`So long as you have your Rs. In later life, you’ll find it’s always handy to have your arse to fall back on.’
I huffed. His joking and his drinking and his chewing garlic were bad enough, but now it appeared he was going to start using dirty language.
The Teacher isn’t very pastorally minded: You’re a loner – and he is grateful not to have any further conversation.
The Uncle claims to be a socialist: I’m all for looking after the workers. Of course I am. I’m a Labour man, myself. I’ll see them all right. Naturally I will. But not here. Not in these shambles. Sure, they’d have me up for rack-renting, housing a miserable mongrel in this old street. No matter what your father says.’
I’ve bailed him out enough times now. I’m not made of money. I’ve played banker to his follies long enough. The deeds are mine. Call it underhand he may, but that’s business. It’s a prime site this.’ He was climbing into his car.
God knows, we’re all entitled to a dream or two. I was quite a fighter in those days, you know. We were all going to change the world. And we believed it. Meetings, rallies, shouting down rivals at factory gates, slogans. The whole shooting gallery.’
It’s not easy when you have a wife and a baby daughter to support. You can’t eat pamphlets, as she used say.
Fr. Mulcahy is like the stereotypical alcoholic priest in Fr. Ted. He says he is in a hurry because it is the 20th Century.
`Open your legs,’ he said. ‘That’s better. Boys your age should be in short pants.’
He drew in silence for a while, then he said quite suddenly. ‘What d’you get up to in your bedroom? All alone in your bedroom?’
I considered telling him about my jigsaw puzzle, but I had a feeling that wasn’t what he was getting at.
He was pulling heavily on his Woodbine. With all the nicotine on his fingers, it looked like his smoking-hand wore a yellow glove.
‘That bloody Father lick-the-bishop’s-arse Mooney has been at me again,’ he muttered, almost to himself. He was off once more. ‘Wouldn’t you think a Christian soul’d leave a man in peace a few years? A decent retirement, I might have. But no. He wants me out. Any excuse. There’s moves afoot to cart me off to the Missions. Not me. I’ve no taste for piccaninnies.’
Is Ira, the cousin meant to be some sort of symbol for the IRA?