Title: Solar Bones
Author: Mike McCormack
Genre: Literary Fiction, Irish Writers
This book has a very revealing blurb that the author Mike McCormack has deemed to be acceptable and contains information about the plot that he, in fact, wishes the reader to know.
In my review I will discuss this blurb in correspondence with the wishes of the author.
If however you would like to know nothing about the plot of this book then I suggest that you do not read my review as to some people this may feel like a giant spoiler that could have the potential to ruin their read of this novel.
Blurb from Goodreads
the Angelus bell
ringing out over its villages and townlands,
over the fields and hills and bogs in between,
six chimes of three across a minute and a half,
a summons struck
on the lip of the void
Once a year, on All Souls’ Day, it is said in Ireland that the dead may return. Solar Bones is the story of one such visit. Marcus Conway, a middle-aged engineer, turns up one afternoon at his kitchen table and considers the events that took him away and then brought him home again.
Funny and strange, McCormack’s ambitious and other-worldly novel plays with form and defies convention. This is profound new work is by one of Ireland’s most important contemporary novelists. A beautiful and haunting elegy, this story of order and chaos, love and loss captures how minor decisions ripple into waves and test our integrity every day.
“drawn down into that fissure in creation where everything is consumed in the raging tides and swells,
the physical world gone down in flames
mountains, rivers and lakes
and pulling with it 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…”
Back in 2016 Solar Bones came to my attention because of media coverage drawing light on the fact that it was ineligible to be considered for that year’s Man Booker Prize despite being a book much beloved by literary critics.
At the time a novel could not win the Man Booker Prize unless it was published by a publishing house based within the UK. Solar Bones was published by a small independent Irish publisher, Tramp Press, who could not afford to acquire a UK imprint.
So the question at the time was did this rule unwittingly force authors to sign with larger publishing houses/corporations and as a result were perhaps truly groundbreaking and individual new talents being isolated as they were not so readily picked up by larger publishers.
When Solar Bones was picked up by a UK based publishing company in 2017 it then became eligible for the Man Booker Prize and actually made the long list for 2017.
Subsequently in 2018 Irish-published novels became eligible for the Man Booker Prize as a direct result of the controversy.
But the main reason that I decided I wanted to read Solar Bones is that it is written as one sentence.
Yup. One big fat long sentence lasting 223 pages! I wanted to know was it a gimmick or if it was indeed necessary to the story.
At first I loved this book. I got completely lost in it.
Our main character / narrator is a man called Marcus Conway and this book is purely his thoughts. And do you know that way that your thoughts bounce from one thing to the next sometimes without stopping?? It’s kind of like that. And at first it was so appealing!! The narrative flowed beautifully. The language was almost rhythmic in how it carried me as the reader along. I didn’t miss the full stop! I didn’t miss paragraph breaks or chapters. It truly held my attention for the first third of the book. But then I began to get somewhat tired of it. The storyline felt a little repetitive and as a reader you could see that Marcus was unable to remember past one event in his life and you were waiting for it to dawn on him that he was dead….
OH NO WAIT!!!! DID I JUST GIVE AWAY A SPOILER??????
Nope!!! Apparently I did not.
So that brings me to the topic of the blurb on the back of the book and the author’s wishes. The blurb at the back of the book tells us from the get go that Marcus Conway is dead. But sometimes on All Soul’s Day (November 2nd), the dead return to us.
Okay so I typically abhor spoilers!!! But if it’s the author’s wishes for us as readers to know then that is his artistic right…
Here’s an excerpt from an article about the book interviewing Mike McCormack. The whole article can be read here on writing.ie
The fact that Marcus is dead, however, raises an interesting question. Some reviews have avoided mentioning this as though it was a spoiler. I wondered if it was always McCormack’s intention that this would be revealed in the blurb given that it isn’t revealed in the book until the last few pages.
“Yes,” he says. “I made a deliberate decision to flag that at the beginning so that it would not come as a cheap reveal at the end of the book. I like the way that it privileges the reader throughout with a knowledge that Marcus does not have … it gives the reader a hold on the situation that Marcus does not have.”
I know that having a dead main character isn’t a new thing. Yes we’ve all read other books, seen films etc. with that twist in the tail but when this particular plot twist is well executed it really makes for an involving read. Even if as the reader you begin to pick up on certain signs within the book you feel more invested in the storyline, in the outcome. You want to know if your suspicions are correct. The difficulty with knowing in this book is that at times it makes for a more passive read.
However, I think the important thing about this novel is the writing.
This book = one long sentence.
This book = beautiful prose
This book reads so differently to the majority of other books out there that even though my attention dragged a little at times due to the one long sentence, the whole premise did keep me interested.
The stream of post-conscious thought from the the main character was quite emotional. And ultimately I believe that for the reader to know the outcome of the story before the narrator did added deeper emotion. Maybe that’s why when reading I saw the signs as to the truth whereas the character of Marcus did not. Because knowing his end heightened my senses. This book was never meant to be written as a thriller or such where one expects the paranormal is at work and one is waiting on twists and turns around every page. It was just a story about an ordinary man who had to come to terms with the most ordinary of events that we all some day will experience.
So before reading this book don’t let the idea of spoilers worry you like I initially did. Instead give this unusual literary idea a chance. I should have taken a moment to pause. To take a breath. To appreciate the artistic decision made and to embrace it.
Even though I was disappointed at first when I brought this book home from my library and read the blurb before embarking on my read, I now no longer am. Somehow what I perceived to be gimmicky has turned to bravery in my mind. The light of your mind when reading this book should be firmly placed on the writing. Forget everything else. It’s not important. Just let yourself fall into the gentle flow of the author’s words.
Solar Bones was awarded The Goldsmiths Prize, an award that recognises fiction that pushes the boundaries, and for once I firmly agree with the critics! This book did certainly try to spin what is normal on its head; the style of writing must be commended and it was completely worth the read. Therefore, I think it is a worthy acknowledgment of a small independent publishing company that were willing to take a chance on what is different.
Diversity, the art of thinking independently togetherMalcolm Forbes