'_ Your Man MacLaverty

Bernard MacLaverty talks to Ann Donald about his first collection of short stories in seven years.

‘1 mean if the world is as complex as a watch which you have just agreed then a watchmaker aye ee God had to put it together.‘

‘That is SO FUCKING STUPID i can hardly believe you said it Declan. The most complicated thing i know is my fucking milk round. Who made that up? God? ltjust happened. People drink milk in different places.’

This spirited excerpt from A Silent Retreat would not assume the same resonance were it not for the surreal situation that this ‘theological debate’ were taking place between a schoolboy with aspirations to be a priest and a B-Special with a part-time job as a milkman. Yet this slight sense of the unreal wrapped in the commonplace is indicative of the majority of stories in Bernard MacLaverty’s latest collection, Walking The Dog. Stalking under the taut, deceptively still surface of his prose is a maelstrom of life’s huge issues: fear. loss, love and dissatisfaction are waiting to find voice in their acutely and humorously perceived characters. Despite MacLaverty’s assertion that: ‘Writing isn’t a craft like putting in fireplaces. it doesn’t get easier the older you get.‘ He has succeeded in stretching his storytelling skills to experiment with a wry, new


Bemard Maciaverty voice featuring ‘your man’. These page-long comical encounters with this eternally harassed alter ego are interwoven through the book to provide. as MacLaverty so succinctly puts it: ‘Verbal cement to make the longer stories cohere and to act as some kind of comment on the an of story telling.‘

Though he may be trying out anew voice. MacLaverty‘s subject matter is still very much rooted

in the Ireland that inspired award-winning novels like

Lamb and Cu]. Despite having lived in Scotland for more than twenty years now, he admits that: ‘My stories all seem to start with one foot in lreland. The characters may go to Majorca or Scotland but the internal voice always seems to be lrish.‘

Certainly the strongest material in the current collection is tinged with the eternal ‘lrish situation‘. The title story features a Belfast man kidnapped while walking his dog and whose life depends on his pronunciation ofthe ABC or The Wake House, where a Catholic teenager acquiesces to the etiquette of funerals by paying respects to his bigoted. dead neighbour. And again in the encounter between the B-Spccial and the schoolboy in A Silent Retreat. Despite conceding the fact that he has gone over the same ground in terms of drawing upon his experienct of living in Belfast. MacLaverty points out that: ‘l'm now looking at it through different binoculars. The emphasis and angle is very different.‘ He does acknowledge that it is very difficult to shake off the

‘The wellspring of what is happening to

you now comes from your childhood. . .

Things were laid down then that you’re still trying to solve.’

impressions formed duringchildhood. ‘The wellspring of what is happening to you now comes from your childhood. your background. All your antennae were out at that time. even if you didn’t know it. Things were laid down then that you're still trying to solve.‘

If MacLaverty's contemplative approach to these formative influences continues to find expression in his fecund literature then the reading public can be assured of a few tnore volumes of humorous and crafted prose.

Walking The Dog And Other Stories by Bernard Mat.'1.averty is published by Jonathon C'rtpe at £14. 99 on 2 June.

Big gay heart

open depiction of homosexuality. However, those who are more concerned about literary merit than sexual orientation will discover an exceptional novel that surpasses its best-selling predecessor.

Edward Manners, 33, leaves an aspiring, but stifled middle-class background in the suburbs of South-

explains. ‘lt’s about someone who’s beginning to realise he’s not quite so young any more. It is to do with time passing, with things being lost forever.’

This twilight aura is beautifully sustained, and notions of loss and disappearance resonate throughout the novel. A complex structure - more assured than The Swimming Pool

Those who are more

Library - creates mysterious comparisons that withhold their

When Alan Hollinghurst’s The I»;

Swimming Pool Library was that

published, critical opinion was not 4 .

quite unanimous. Most reviewers

recognised it as an impressive literary f»;


about gay life written by an English .3;

author. However, a vocal few could

scarcely conceal their distaste. One r

well-known Scottish writer remmfted -

in the words of Miss Jean Brodie - "


wheltedthataortofthiugmutvery ill-HIM

definitely not for than who IIII’L’ have changed little. ‘l think book- M It“ “1933- “! 50m“ reading people have shifted to a more

'88 “WM mlh Clause 28 thoughtful and intelligent perception

MM”. 3“ “'0 “ill”!!! M "03 of gay issues. However, things like the

with homosexuality meant that recent debate on lowering the age of

preludice against gay people reached consent reveal the force of primitive

fierce new levels. Six years on, with preludlce that still exists.’

the publication of his second novel It is perhaps inevitable that The

"The Folding Stu, Alan Hollinghurst ' Folding Star will attract criticism from

feels that attitudes to homosexuality those who blockade their minds to its

concerned about literary merit than sexual orientation will discover an exceptional novel that surpasses its best-selling predecessor.

East England to work as a private tutor

in a quiet Belgian town. Almost at once, he is derailed by an infatuation for luc Altidore, one of his teenage pupils. ‘My first novel was very summery and hedonistic; a young person’s book. This is much darker. it starts in the autumn and moves on to the middle of winter,’ Hollinghurst

significance until the very end. Edward’s obsession is reflected in gradually sharpening focus by the life and work of Edgard first, an enigmatic symbolist painter. Both discover that momentary fulfilment of their dreans has destroyed what they‘ most desire. All but the most leaden of readers will be affected by the sensuality of Hollinghurst’s writing. The shifting moods, desires and preoccupations that he evokes in The Folding Star are ones that we all share.(.lustin McKenzie Smith) The Folding Star is published by Chatto & Windus at £15.99

84 The List 20 May-2 June 1994