Presenting extracts from the most acclaimed books of 2017...
We're delighted to present an extract from Sara Baume's new novel A Line Made by Walking, published by Tramp Press.
Baume's acclaimed 2015 debut, Spill Simmer Falter Wither won the author the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, the Rooney Prize for Literature and an Irish Book Award for Best Newcomer in 2015. Most recently, Baume won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.
25-year-old Frankie is living in Dublin and working part-time in a public gallery. But increasingly anxious, she quits her bedsit to live in her deceased grandmother’s creaking house in rural Ireland, close to her family. With an artist’s gift for observation, Frankie recounts the beauty and the obliteration of the world as the seasons change around her, from roadkill to kitchen curios, all the while struggling to understand her place in it.
I used to believe that if I didn’t cross the hall from the bathroom and touch down on the kitchen tiles before the toilet stopped flushing, the cat – my Patchie – would get hit by a car. And every time I ate a banana, I had to ask it a question. It was a trick Mum showed my sister and I when we were kids. We’d ask the banana something with a straightforward yes/no answer, then she’d chop the very tip off with a sharp knife to reveal a black shape that was either a clear Y or an indistinguishable smudge which stood for no. Of course she couldn’t possibly have predicted I’d become obsessed with the wisdom of banana skins. Over and over, I turned to them to settle arguments with my conscience; I obeyed the Y or smudge irrespective of sense, of consequence.
A part of me knew my rituals and the things they prophesised were insane, but a larger part of me was too wary to refute them. Doubt beat inside me like a metronome, setting the tempo of my days. Just in case, just in case, just in case.
When the ceramic cetacean crested out of the shadows, I realised that these small torments had each gone away, or rather, I had ceased to perform for them, as thoughtlessly as I invented them in the first place. The metronome had faded into a cat arbitrarily striking piano keys, faded away.
I got up from the armchair and approached the dolphin. I stroked the dust from its back and then I flicked it with my index finger, as hard as I could, and it hit the wall and fell down behind the bedstead.
More recently, I watched a TV documentary about people suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
‘People say "I’m a little bit OCD",’ says a young man, an art student, who pushes the button for the pedestrian crossing with his foot, who keeps his credit card wrapped in special plastic, who believes everything – absolutely everything – is capable of contaminating him. ‘They’re not.’ He says. ‘They have no idea.’
And I felt like such a failure. I thought: I can’t even do mental illness properly.
Works about Goldfish, I remembered one: Marco Evaristti, Helena & El Pescador, 2000. An installation in a gallery in Kolding, Denmark. It consisted of ten food blenders, each containing a measure of water and a single goldfish. It presented audience members with an opportunity to press the button and mince the goldfish, or not.
The director of the gallery was sued, on grounds of animal cruelty, I suppose. More than a decade later, Evaristti remade the work for a retrospective, but on this occasion, he used already-dead goldfish preserved in clear jelly. Goldfish killed in a private place, by some othermeans.
I search around online. I want to find out whether anyone had pressed the button. Or whether everybody had.
Around the same time I noticed the dolphin ornament, my parents suddenly started to annoy me.
My mother was forever reminding me of things I had not forgotten. ‘You’ll need a knife to open that’, she said when I reached for a vacuum-pack of coffee in the kitchen cupboard. ‘You’ll need to empty the strainer’, she said when she found me standing over a sink full of smoggy water doing nothing in particular, just waiting. It was as if I hadn’t learned a single thing in the seven years I’d lived independently, as if my mother refused to acknowledge knowledge attained from any source which wasn’t her.
I only saw Dad in the evenings. After dinner, he’d go back out to one of his sheds and not reappear until the nine o’clock news. Then he’d take up position in his indelible sofa dip and Mum would entreaty me to ‘let your father watch what he wants’ because of the ‘long day’ he inflicted upon himself, every day. It didn’t matter that he only ever watched the screen with half his concentration; the other half he split between loudly rustling a newspaper and making the occasional, sweeping statement. ‘Them feckers up the North are off again’, he’d say, or ‘all them Greens should be shot from a height’.
I’ve often stayed more than a week at home since I moved out, at Christmas and during the summer holidays, but on those occasions I’d always had an independent life to return to: a bedsit, a college course, a job. And for each new place and situation and set of people, I’d made up a new version of myself, a better version in accordance with my changing tastes and values and perspectives. In the famine hospital, there were no people but the people who made me, no option to be anything but my original self. For abridged periods, this was nice; this was reassuring. But faced with an undetermined length of stay and no independence to return to, my sadness lengthened, my temper shortened.
It wasn’t my parents who annoyed me; it was the forsaken version of myself I helplessly revert to in their presence; it was the fact that my life was suddenly wide open. I had not yet, at that point, decided whether I wanted to get better or die altogether. I only knew that I couldn’t go back to Dublin, and couldn’t stay where I was either. That was the point at which I remembered my grandmother’s bungalow.
There’s a vox-pop item on the radio. The presenter is asking people in the street: what’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning? They say approximately the things I expect them to say. ‘I think how much I love my lovely hubby who is lying beside me’, an old woman says. I can tell she is old from the weak spot in her voice and I wonder what she’ll do if her beloved lovely hubby kicks the bucket before she does, as the law of probability dictates. ‘I think: oh shit, am I late?’ says a man, and laughs. A different man wonders whether the dog has crapped on the kitchen floor again. Someone else thanks god he made it through another night without succumbing to ‘the demon drink’. The item closes with a woman who confesses: ‘I think about the gap, the huge gap between my life as it is and my life as I would like it to be...’
A Line Made by Walking (Tramp Press) is out now.
Sara Baume’s work first appeared in newspapers and journals such as the Irish Times, the Guardian, The Stinging Fly and Granta. She won the 2014 Davy Byrnes Short Story Award, and went on to receive the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, the Rooney Prize for Literature and an Irish Book Award for Best Newcomer in 2015. Her debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Warwick Prize for Writing, the Desmond Elliott Prize for New Fiction and the International Dublin Literary Award. It was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.
She grew up in East Cork and now lives in West Cork.