Hi! Today I’m back with another review and this time it is for the Man Booker longlisted Solar Bones by Mike McCormack. Set just outside Louisville in County Mayo, Ireland, the novel takes place over the course of an hour, with our narrator Marcus Conway sitting in his kitchen reflecting on his life. In particular, he remembers his relationships with his father, his wife Mairead and their two children Agnes, an artist living in the city, and Darragh, who is currently in Australia on a round-the-world trip. Marcus also discusses his career as an engineer as well as touching on Irish events and politics.
Before I started reading Solar Bones I felt quite apprehensive about it. The novel is told in a single sentence with the narrative non-linear. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand it or that the structure would be pretentious or gimmicky. My fears were totally unfounded. On the contrary, I found this technique to be a really effective way of telling the story. It felt like a man reflecting on his life, nothing premeditated or omitted, just a natural flow of thought. McCormack was able to write how a person thinks, with all the little asides and jumps to different memories which we all do, which I was impressed by as I imagine that can be quite difficult. After about 10 pages or so I forgot that it was a single sentence and became really engaged with the story.
The use of a single sentence to tell the story also reflects the imagery recurring in the novel. Early on Marcus recalls a time he returned home from school to find out his father has disassembled the tractor. He remarks how something so solid can come apart so easily and begins to look at another examples of this. However by reflecting on his past, Marcus is essentially doing what his father did. He is taking something substantial – life itself – and is breaking it down to this random collection of memories which on their own seem insignificant. And in a way, McCormack has done the same with the novel, having stripped it down to its bare bones, the narrative. The idea of something being strong and solid, yet ultimately fragile, appears throughout the novel and is reflected in how McCormack wrote it.
The character of Marcus I also found to be engaging. In many ways he is just an ‘ordinary’ man – nice house, good job, family etc. Yet I never found him dull, he is a very well-rounded character. He uses very dry humour at various points, which I enjoyed as it helped to create a contrast between the sadder moments in the story. His exasperation at his son Darragh was particularly funny as well as tender, and their conversations were the highlights of the novel for me. Yet there are times when I didn’t like Marcus. Sometimes his actions or words were horrible and I found myself questioning why I had liked him previously. Yet when the novel was finished, I found myself reflecting on his character the most. Looking back, I liked that Marcus was a flawed character, it made him feel realistic and made me want to read more.
Overall I really enjoyed Solar Bones, and I’m disappointed it didn’t make the shortlist. I found the characters to be very engaging and I really cared for them at the end. Despite my trepidation at the beginning, I found this book really readable, with the stream of consciousness prose helping you get under the skin of Marcus and seeing the world from his perspective. Whilst it may not be as action-packed as maybe some other books I’ve read, I definitely didn’t feel bored reading this. As cheesy as it sounds, the book made me appreciate the smaller things in life which we sometimes take for granted. Solar Bones is a fascinating study of one man’s life, set against the backdrop of contemporary Ireland, and I highly recommend it.
Solar Bones is published by Canongate and you can find more info here.