Review : Solar Bones by Mike McCormack - More2Read

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack


Solar Bones by Mike McCormack :

Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize
Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize
Winner of the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year
An Irish Times Book Club Choice

“With stylistic gusto, and in rare, spare, precise and poetic prose, Mike McCormack gets to the music of what is happening all around us. One of the best novels of the year.”
—Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic 

“Pure enchantment from an otherworldly talent. I admired the hell out of this book.”
—Eleanor Catton, Man Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries

“Excellence is always rare and often unexpected: we don’t necessarily expect masterpieces even from the great. Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones is exceptional indeed: an extraordinary novel by a writer not yet famous but surely destined to be acclaimed by anyone who believes that the novel is not dead and that novelists are not merely lit-fest fodder for the metropolitan middle classes.”
The Guardian

“A heady rumination on modern life as otherworldly as it is grounded in reality.”
—Entertainment Weekly 

“A lyrical rumination.”

“As in Don DeLillo’s White Noise, it is the numinous, otherworldly qualities of modern life, rather than some fantastical future, that we are concerned with here . . . The work of an author in the full maturity of his talent, Solar Bones climaxes in a passage of savage, Gnostic religiosity: the writing catches fire as we draw near to the void, pass over into death itself, and therein confront the truth that even in a fallen universe, when all distractions tumble away, the only adequate response to our being is astonishment.”
The Irish Times

“An impressive meditation, as Joyce would say, ‘upon all the living and the dead’ . . . Mike McCormack is a gifted Irish writer.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune?

“One-of-a-kind. McCormack is a wonderfully accessible, quick-witted writer—and, with references to Radiohead, Mad Max, and the post-millennial Battlestar Galactica, a smartly contemporary one. The book is alive with startling connections between the exterior and interior worlds . . . an irresistible driving rhythm. It’s a book that demands a second reading and readings of the author’s other books . . . This transcendent novel should expand McCormack’s following on this side of the Atlantic and further establish him as a heavyweight of contemporary Irish fiction along with the likes of Anne Enright and Kevin Barry.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“The latest from McCormack is a beautifully constructed novel that blends Beckett’s torrential monologues with a realist portrait of small-town Ireland. This is an intelligent, striking work.” 
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review? 

“McCormack’s third novel exhibits his startling imagination and humor as well as a measured narrative style.This book is a brilliant tour de force.”
Library Journal, Starred Review? 

“In radiant, exquisite prose, Mike McCormack dilates time, erasing the line between the external, concrete world and the interior world of thought and feeling, memory and soul. Solar Bones is a deeply affecting, mesmerizing and quietly astonishing novel.”
—Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others

“McCormack’s novel embraces a rich panorama of working life, spiritual contemplation, and musings over Ireland’s economic woes. Deserving a readership far larger than Irish-literature devotees, this is a work of bold risks and luminous creativity.”


James Joyce did it
William Faulkner did it
Jose Saramango did it
Cormac McCarthy did it
not as much as this author has done, in this novel.
That is go against the rules of grammar.
For reference, when talking about sentences and word count in sentence lengths go, there is William Faulkner’s novel Absalom Absalom! that has maybe the longest properly punctuated sentence at 1287 words, and Joyce’s Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy in Ulysses has a sentence that reaches 4491 words.
Like that movie Locke with Tom Hardy just solely him talking in a car, this narrative is boxed in beginning to end, with commas as breaks, no fully stop/period, except at the end.
Applauded in possibly bringing to the table discourse on writing art, narrative voice, abstract and surreal.
If you give it time, once you get into the rhythm, the prose style, he will have you in his vice and whirling mind on things occurring and past, and some rumination on this world.
An eloquent prose, unconventional told, fragmented and hallucinatory rhythmic prose at times, challenging and keeping the reading on hypnotic and mediative at times in the streams of consciousness.
A breathe of fresh air in its unconformity, unconventionality, and originality.


“..and I watched the screen cloud to a fizzy interference as it shut down, leaving the room to dark silence and a burnt feeling behind my eyes as if the light from the monitor had scalded them to the core, the kind of feeling you imagine you would have just before the world goes up in flames, some refined corrosion eating away at the rods and cones, collapsing their internal structure before they slope out of their sockets and run down your cheekbones, leaving you standing hollow-eyed in the middle of some desolation with the wind whistling through your skull, just before the world collapses mountains, rivers and lakes acres, roods and perches into oblivion, drawn down into that fissure in creation where everything is consumed in the raging tides and swells of non-being, the physical world gone down in flames mountains, rivers and lakes and pulling with it also all those human rhythms that bind us together and draw the world into a community, those daily rites, rhythms and rituals upholding the world like solar bones, that rarefied amalgam of time and light whose extension through every minute of the day is visible from the moment I get up in the morning and stand at the kitchen window with a mug of tea in my hand, watching the first cars of the day passing on the road, every one of them known to me name, number-plate and destinations one after another, beginning at half seven with Frances Dugan in the green Mégane,”

“I stood by the side of her bed, frequently at a loss as to what exactly I should do, her face glossed with sweat, skin glowing in the weak light of the bedroom and something deathly about the way this illness closed her eyes, leaving her face so unguarded it allowed me to stare at her and notice for the first time how her avian features –nose and cheekbones converging on some vanishing point ahead of her –had been further refined in her daughter’s sharpness, how she had held her looks and shape into middle age so that the contours of her body still held close to the figure of the serious girl I’d met over twenty years ago, the girl composed of languages and foreign travel, her body with no fat on it to hinder or weigh it down and so lightly built for the job of always teetering on the first step of the next journey, always drawing her on, but now this same body was that narrow place in which a fever had taken hold with its purgative heat scourging it from the inside out and which would account for the filthiness of the whole process, the sweat in which she was constantly bathed, the bile that rose out of her gut and the diarrhoea that racked through her stomach and bowels in sudden spasms, leaving her mortified as her whole being stank, no matter how carefully she washed herself after each trip to the bathroom, sometimes no sooner back in bed, showered and in clean pyjamas, than she would begin to sweat once more from every pore and crevice of her body, till in no time again her bed and clothes were damp and stale, with her hair slicked over to the side of her head, the room filled with a stench beyond what was human, as if her very soul was being drawn from her body, out through the pores of her skin so that it was a genuine anguish to witness her shame in all this, that raging helplessness over which there was nothing I could do since this illness seemed to have taken hold of all the rhythms and pulses of her body, clinging to all its currents and shifts while her suffering now spread through the house like the microclimate of a different, more rarefied realm, up and down the hall and through all its rooms, that separate latitude within which the sick thrive so that whenever I walked down the hall towards whatever bedroom she was lying in I sometimes experienced those few steps as a long journey southwards which crossed borders and time zones, traversed deserts and mountain ranges to where I would eventually find her, my quarry, stricken under a pitiless sun, gasping and parched in some benighted jurisdiction which suffered a rapid turnover of governments, spiralling inflation rates and despicable human rights records –only such radical change of topography and circumstance could account for that gaping sense of distance she inhabited during the first couple of days Friday, Saturday and Sunday with their patient, attritional wasting which seemed to consume her down at the very smallest grains of her being, drifting from herself on clouds of her own breath, each laboured exhalation peeling away another layer of her into the ether, this illness which had settled into the most sheltered niches of her organism from where it could achieve the most finical, attentive wasting so that by Sunday afternoon, when she was propped up with her eyes closed and her mouth ajar, trying to hold down those few mouthfuls of water that were already stewing to bile in her stomach while the room around her was warped in her heat haze, doors and windows drifting in her ambient temperature, everything lopsided and out of shape, her head thrown back to give me a clear picture of how this illness was draining the flesh from her face, drawing out the bone structure beneath, her jaw and cheekbones jutting sharply while the radial pattern of her fingers began to show through the backs of her hands resting on the duvet cover, her extended fingers fanned out from knuckles to wrist which peaked over the plane of her narrow forearm, all her bones now poking through her flesh until a call from Agnes on Sunday evening clarified things for me after she had listened quietly to my account of Mairead’s illness,”


“something in us revived beneath the light of the kitchen lamp but both of us wise enough to grasp the cliché of the moment and laugh at it, a moment of erotic comedy which marked what we saw in retrospect as the beginning of the second part of our marriage with its quiet renewal of our love for each other, a brightening of our new lives together which was cut across by a long moan from the end of the hall, my cue to rush to her side just in time to hold her by the shoulders over the edge of the bed while she discharged a rush of bitter gall into the basin, her body buckling at the hips with the effort while I spoke some hopeless words of comfort it’s ok, it’s ok, get it all up while she purged herself, half out of the bed with her head down over the basin till she was spent and spitting and then that delicate manoeuvre to straighten her back under the duvet where she would lie limp and pale, all puked out, drifting in a fervid realm beyond words, near lost to the world when, without turning, she would lay her hand on mine so that I was assured she was aware of me and recognised my efforts and in this way, through such small gestures we quickly built up a language of cues and responses through which we managed, and I found myself sharper to them than I would have thought, this new language or choreography which we were now assembling on the fly but which already governed the entire mood of the house, drawing us together into an intimacy of heat and fever, so pervasive that it charged the air with a prickly ammonial smell that hung through the hall and rooms like a fog, the whole house now suffused with the smell of sickness, a sourness which snagged in my pores and dragged me through the house several times a day swinging a pink aerosol as if it were a censer, launching a feathery floral spray into the middle of each room, a kind of purifying ritual which bathed the house for a brief time in the cloying stench of roses or lily-of-the-valley before it was burned off by the smell of sickness which emanated from this slight woman who was now so disbelieving of her own condition that her voice threaded to a whisper of rage whenever she gathered herself to protest I’ve never felt like this before, never enraged that her body at this stage of her life could betray her in such a way, turning on her like this with such venom after so many years of sound service –this was what offended her most and gave her suffering such a grating edge of incredulity –having finally arrived at a time in her life which was exclusively her own and without the care of kids to compromise it –that it should be spoiled like this –this, more than the illness itself, was what angered her most and gave her that rancorous edge which carried with it a warning that I shouldn’t meddle with her frustration, nor try to reconcile her to it in any way since I was uncertain how to feel, as part of me was convinced that this illness was drawing us closer together in a way that was decisive, as if this new life with all its caring and cleaning, all its fetching and carrying, was some new kind of courtship dance we were doing towards each other, a dance through filth and fever which took me by surprise in so far as I had thought our lives together up to this had brought us as close as we were ever likely to be and that such new intimacy was, frankly, improbable at this age of our lives –too set in our ways, too long in the tooth –this closeness which breached so many delicate laws of personal privacy, something neither of us could have anticipated nor predicted how we would react to as we were now carried towards each other on the tidal rhythm of her fever, rising and falling on those swells specific to the illness itself, every moment pushing our marriage beyond its usual, mannered intimacies and into a new knowing of each other which was beyond embarrassment and this was something which no news article or analysis could hope to capture, this flesh and filth intimacy was the very thing which leaked away in the telling of this news story as it came through the news bulletins and headlines to wash through the house this same house in which I’ve lived the best part of three decades and put together all those habits and rituals which have made up my marriage and family life and where now,”

“around me because in truth what really tormented me was that all this filth and disorder offended my engineer’s sense of structure, everything out of place and proper alignment, everything gathering towards some point of chaos beyond which it would be impossible to restore the place to its proper order and yet I stood looking at it, locked into a silent battle with the house itself and all the things which were slowly vacating their proper place, furniture and dishes and cutlery all over the place, curtains hanging awry and chairs and tables strewn about while books and papers slid across the floor, everything slowly shifting through the house as if they had a meeting to keep somewhere else, possibly in some higher realm where all this chaos would resolve into a refined harmony which had no need of my hand or intervention so I stood back and let the place run to wrack and ruin around me for another two weeks before Mairead eventually brought the stand-off to an end the day I turned from the sink to find her standing in the middle of the floor,”


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Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 01 October 2017