LIT­ER­ARY FIC­TION

Irish Daily Mail - - It’s Friday! - by CLAIRE ALLFREE

KU­DOS by Rachel Cusk

(Faber €19.45) WHEN Rachel Cusk pub­lished her cor­us­cat­ingly bit­ter me­moir Af­ter­math, about her mar­riage break-up, the re­sponse from some quar­ters was so bru­tal, she was un­able to write any­thing again for years.

Ku­dos brings to a close the tril­ogy she even­tu­ally em­barked on, in which the nar­ra­tor, Faye, a writer and di­vorced mother, just like Cusk, re­counts a se­ries of con­ver­sa­tions she has had with var­i­ous peo­ple: fel­low writ­ers, com­plete strangers, her chil­dren.

Such is Cusk’s peer­less prose (each word as cool and clean as vodka) that this very sim­ple idea — in which Cusk is both present and per­turbingly ab­sent — has pro­duced one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing se­quences in re­cent fic­tion.

Here, Faye trav­els to a lit­er­ary fes­ti­val in Europe and, as ever, mainly lis­tens while oth­ers talk — about them­selves, the mess they have made of their lives and their valiant at­tempts at self-pro­tec­tion.

If any­thing, Ku­dos sug­gests Cusk’s ex­per­i­ment in fic­tional au­to­bi­og­ra­phy has reached a nat­u­ral end — it lacks the shock­ing, high-def­i­ni­tion clar­ity of its pre­de­ces­sors. It will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see what she does next.

A SHOUT IN THE RU­INS by Kevin Pow­ers

(Scep­tre €17.15) IT HELPS to have ex­pe­ri­enced war in or­der to write about it. Pow­ers is a vet­eran of Iraq and his de­but novel about that con­flict, The Yel­low Birds, was widely ac­claimed. Here, he fo­cuses on the Amer­i­can Civil War and, through a par­al­lel nar­ra­tive set 90 years later, a war Amer­ica is ar­guably still fight­ing — namely, the legacy of slav­ery.

The early-set scenes fea­tur­ing Rawls and Nurse, two black slaves on the Beau­vais plan­ta­tion owned by Le­val­lois and his white wife Emily, are full of heat and vi­o­lence, while the scenes from the bat­tle­fields sing with a ghastly po­etry.

Ninety years on, Ge­orge, the or­phaned off­spring of a rape be­tween Le­val­lois and Nurse, em­barks on a late-life jour­ney to re­con­nect with his roots.

The ir­res­o­lute na­ture of his quest points up Pow­ers’s in­ter­est in the shift­ing na­ture of his­tory and how we fit into it.

But, although it con­tains mo­ments that burn, the novel feels frus­trat­ingly shape­less and there’s a self-con­scious­ness in the writ­ing that weak­ens its power.

MILK­MAN by Anna Burns

(Faber €18.10) THE re­nais­sance in fic­tion from Ire­land con­tin­ues with this great novel. Anna Burns is orig­i­nally from Belfast, but she sits in nat­u­ral com­pany with her coun­ter­parts from across the border, Eimear McBride, Lisa McIn­er­ney and Sally Rooney.

In Milk­man, Burns’s third novel (her de­but, No Bones, was short­listed for the Or­ange Prize), the nar­ra­tor, who lives in an un­named town that we can as­sume is some­where in North­ern Ire­land, goes only by the name of Mid­dle Sis­ter.

She re­counts, in a long, ram­bling stream of con­scious­ness, the re­ver­ber­at­ing im­pact on her­self and her fam­ily of her se­cret, pe­cu­liar, en­gi­matic re­la­tion­ship with the mys­te­ri­ous Milk­man.

Against a bomb-shat­tered land­scape, ren­dered toxic by a cli­mate of prej­u­dice, in­tim­i­da­tion, sus­pi­cion and half-truths, Burns ex­plores to ex­hil­a­rat­ing ef­fect the treach­er­ous na­ture of lan­guage it­self.

If Beck­ett had writ­ten a prose poem about the Trou­bles, it would read a lot like this.

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