Reflections and Responses to Vandalism

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Vandalism was published in October 2015 by Merlin Publishers. The journey involved in the writing of the novel was itself intense and far from straightforward or easy. I began writing the book in 1997 during what was one of the most difficult periods in my life. In 2004, by which time I’d moved from Cardiff back to my hometown of Glasgow, I revisited the manuscript and in 2013, by which time I was living and working in Malta, I spent the summer editing the book for what, as it turned out, was to be the final time.

As my life changed, somehow Vandalism remained and continued, perhaps, to haunt me as Shirley Whiteside observed in a recent radio interview [Booked on Pulse 98.4, 8 January, 2017] Since its publication, the journey of the book has progressed in so many diverse and unexpected ways. Widely distributed in Malta, in May 2016, it also went on sale in Waterstones Byres Rd, slap-bang in the heart of the West End of Glasgow where the novel is set. As if that wasn’t enough, it sits alongside books by brilliant and prestigious writers whose work I admire immensely: Joseph Heller’s Catch 22; Murakami’s Norwegian Wood; and Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller, which has a curiously specific place in my own personal history.

In 2016, it was shortlisted for Best Novel by the National Book Council of Malta. Again, something I could never have imagined during the life in which the novel took shape and finally found its way to publication.

All of these things surprise me but what possibly overwhelms me the most is the response Vandalism has received from readers and the precise nature of this response. For me, in the actual writing of the book, I wasn’t fully aware of reaching out to any reader. I was writing because I needed to write and I needed to write this particular story as it unfolded in the process. Maybe the act of writing is always and in itself an act of reaching out to someone or something outside of oneself, but I could never have anticipated the very strong and deeply personal reactions evoked by the book and expressed in such thoughtful detail by the people concerned.

I want to include these together because, combined, they suggest that Vandalism, a ‘story of life, love and death’, is both a specific story set in a particular time and place and also one that speaks to a variety of readers with their own experiences of ‘grief and desire, of longing, love and love.’ For this and all of the following comments, I am beyond grateful.

Just finished reading Vandalism by the talented writer Lizzie Eldridge. Written as a novel the experience of reading it is intense and dramatic. The authentic voice of Moira draws the reader in challenging us not to pass judgement as events unfold “Do not dare condemn unless you are absolutely uncertain of your own unfailing and unquestionable credibility”. The novel is beautifully written and raises existential questions about love, life and the impact of the individual on those around them. It is impossible not to grow a little reading Vandalism. The backdrop of the book- the West End of Glasgow (like the characters of Moira and Connie also my teenage home) adds to the novel which equally could have been set at anytime in history anywhere in the world.” – Kate Lovett

I have just finished reading Vandalism. The last chapter had me crying, and then laughing. It is so melancholically real and you manage to capture every emotion so beautifully. I felt everything she went through, it is beautiful my dear, it is duende. You have it in bucketfuls.  I cannot say it better than you did yourself, so here, in your own words, for you: ‘A beauty that reaches to the very heart of your soul. Duende. Just like the fullest moon.'” – Ann Sammut

I finished this book a week ago and yet I feel it is still lingering, and I’m still forming opinions on it. Eldridge succeeds in telling a story with a number of touchy subjects at the forefront in a realistic manner, without protecting the reader. The voice shifts tenses, internalises and implodes, then talks to the ‘you’ of different characters. This confused me at first, but as I got to the thick of it, I could see that this was a succesful and realistic tool. As I closed the last chapter I already started to miss the characters. I wanted to know more. I wanted to fill in the gaps.” – Miriam Galea

Lizzie your book was amazing and I can’t wait to read more of your work. There is definitely a sequel in Vandalism. I really got so much from the book, it provoked so much emotion in me that I had to revisit painful memories of my own life.” – Marion Paton

Just finished reading Vandalism and wiping away the tears. I couldn’t put it down. Congratulations! (I would have bought it on the strength of the cover alone – amazing image.” – Louise Singleton

Almost finished this beaut and I’ll be sorry to have to put it down. A truly touching, thoughtful wee gem and resonant contemplation on relationships and love.” – Andrew Galea

I have just finished Vandalism… And It engaged me so much that I read it in a week!! A very strong story about feelings and doubts and fear… Wonderful…and I have the handicap of being Spanish and my English is not very good…Congratulations!” – Regina Perez Garcia 

The full gamut of emotions, regret, sadness, but also good memories of times shared in Glasgow. Great writing…The moon night was very moving…It was all very evocative of the Glasgow I remember which is almost the only one for me since I left so long ago. I read it every day on the bus to work and it stayed with me.” – Drew Anderson

It is so lovely to experience a novel which celebrates the frailty of life and love without sugar-coating and sentimentality. The beauty of humanity is in the flaws, and Eldridge shares these imperfections with great skill, sensitivity and above all honesty.” – Marie Keiser-Neilsen

Just finished reading Vandalism this second and had to write to tell you “WOW! What an amazing read!” Started it yesterday morning and haven’t been able to put it down. It’s so intense! You very cleverly put into words so many emotions and thoughts which us lesser verbally-challenged mortals find so hard to describe. A very BIG WELL DONE to you, my friend.You’ve done a brilliant job. Will definitely be recommending this one!” – Catherine Vassallo

I like when the book which I have just read rattles inside my head and makes me think. I finished reading the last page of Vandalism yesterday on the bus on the way to work and my mind was filling up immediately with different thoughts and questions.
For me this book really wasn’t about a romance, but about fear and lowliness. Fear of what can be said or thought, fear of being honest with yourself and the fear of simply being with yourself in silence, fear of hearing the truth from your own self from the place very deep inside.
The lowliness of the main character was one of the most interesting motifs in ‘Vandalism’. I had an impression that Moira was living behind some kind of invisible glass wall. She was heard and she was being heard but she didn’t ever leave her comfort zone of lowliness. The only true friend who was able to speak to her without the barrier has died. There was no other person in the world who was able to pass Moira’s invisible guard.
The men around Moira seem to be only a promise of something sure, stable and the promise of being emotionally safe. Something which Moira couldn’t gain with her own company.
Finally the lowliness of Moira evaluated to confrontation with her feelings and the decision which can only be made without any advice from others, with no false and confusing whispers, but in the silence of her own inner voice.” – Magdalene Kasperowicz-Swanson

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Duende by Lizzie Eldridge: A Reflection by Giuliana Fenech

 

Duende by Lizzie Eldridge

A Reflection by Giuliana Fenech

Book Launch of Duende: 23rd April 2015 National Museum of Fine Arts Valletta

Giuliana at Duende launchDuende is about the darkness that haunts every creative soul. It is about the negotiation between illusion and delusion. It is also about art and life and the ways in which human beings negotiate the two on a quest to understand more about each. In Lizzie Eldridge’s Duende it is also about art as one way in which humans compose themselves in encounters with other bodies and materials to produce a more powerful body by asking the question, ‘What if?’

What if our thoughts are nothing but ephemeral, flighty and meaningless? What if men are all brutes and politicians all corrupt? What if a man loving another man is tempting fate too much and will lead to doom for both? But what if art could teach the lessons of history so that no more people would die in war? What if poetry could capture the depths of consciousness so that those who are lost could find themselves again? What if the emotional connection of love could overcome shame, grief and desolation?

if Paradise was ever lost completely

if light grew dead

and darkness embraced my mind

if the curve of your body

became a shadow

and the sky collapsed within the sea

I, sleepless, would forever search for you

 

the truth I seek,

desire, delight and dreams

the honesty of angels

whose wings unfurl to the pulse of our existence

 

windows watching strangers

lighting shipwrecked passers-by

church bells

toll against a weary world

spinning ceaselessly around

 

if the shoe fits

chains may break

and blindness turn to sight

 

the sea baptised us

the water and the wind

gave us a name

 

a sheltered cove

was our creation

our beginning

and our end

 

wine and stars

white moon and snow

sharp russet rose

 

perhaps no home

or country

but still a memory

a whispered touch

a long held sigh

 

you are all i want

all i could need

it’s you I find

infinite and dancing

in the pathways of my soul

(Eldridge, 2015)

In this novel, art becomes a driving force for a lifetime of change and creativity but also a platform for contemplation and action. Loosely interpreted Duende means – having soul – or being in a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity. In this novel, Duende remains faithful to its broader meaning whilst honing in on a particular time and place. Set in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War, it cleverly combines an attention to detail and history that keeps us grounded in life whilst also allowing us to follow the journey of the two protagonists, Nayo and José. The growing love between two boys who mature into men as the story progresses is only rendered even more intriguing by the fact that one, Nayo, is an artist and the other, José, a philosopher and poet.

Their story unfolds in the magical and mysterious cities of Europe including Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and others as they are surrounded by those we now recognise as icons; Salvador Dalí, Pepin Bello, Pablo Picasso, Luis Buñuel, Federico García Lorca. Through these characters we ‘perform what we read in the theatre of our minds’ (Gerrig, 1993). We engage in aesthetic illusion as we would in a game of make-believe. We know that this is only a story – an illusion – so that we are in-lusio, meaning in play and yet we are also immersed. Amidst the turmoil and changes that the boys experience, whilst eager to absorb all that they can from the world and people around them, they form a strong connection that carries them through the rest of their lives. ‘I’ve found you, Nayo, I’ve fucking found you’, José exhorts as he catches sight of his friend after having lost him in the crowd.

Nayo is not simply José’s companion but also his soul mate. Lizzie has chosen her title carefully, not only are their emotions constantly pushed to dizzying heights and desperate lows, but their quest for expression and authenticity constantly challenged creatively. Their art embodies the spirit of evocation. It comes from inside recalling a physical/emotional response to life. It represents what gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive. Lizzie, drawing on Federico García Lorca’s own reflections on Duende, writes:

Duende. Mysterious and inexplicable like Goethe’s notion of the Demonic. Duende, that mischievous spirit in myth and folklore. Duende. Something primal, living, shuddering and vibrant. Duende which evokes tears through its music and its poetry. Duende which comes from the depths of the body through the roots of the earth and shakes the entire universe.

(Eldridge, 2015)

And we, as readers, are reminded, that whilst this may be just a story it is also a journey, the journey of a character who falls in love, an artist who discovers his talent, a country that fights for ideals it believes in and a reader, who curious to know more ventures to ask, ‘What if?’Duende Take 2

The Precipice of Non-Existence: A reflection about Duende, a novel by Lizzie Eldridge [Mario Gerada]

Duende Take 2

Duende by Lizzie Eldridge

The Precipice of Non-Existence
By Mario Gerada
23 April 2015
The struggle for life, with death and darkness emerge as powerful themes, both in Duende as a concept, and in Lizzie Eldridge’s novel. Duende is dangerous, and the novel depicts that danger in all of its nakedness. It is within that stark nakedness, that Lizzie Eldridge points towards that which is essential, Love. For Eldrigde, it is Love that is at the core of the meaning of life and the meaning behind the struggle. Even though this struggle can leave us deeply scared, and some may lose their way, or so it seems. It is a struggle which all humans share, yet artists and mystics seem to be more in tune with, and aware of the Duende, they seem to experience it more intensely, or maybe, they simply can articulate that experience better.

The search for the meaning of life, and the struggle with darkness, both with those internal and external forces, seem to be the journey for mortals, and Duende the novel promises us that “If you look hard enough, you always find what you need”, but the price for that is high. Duende asks the reader: are you ready to embark on this journey?

Lorca writes that “The magic power of a poem consists in it always being filled with duende, in its baptising all who gaze at it with dark water, since with duende it is easier to love, to understand, and be certain of being loved, and being understood, and this struggle for expression and the communication of that expression in poetry sometimes acquires a fatal character.”

Nayo, one of the two main characters in the novel, expresses his struggle with Duende through his art. He escorts those who view his paintings to walk on the precipice, but as Jose, Nayo’s lover tells him, he never lets the onlooker fall. Later on in the novel we read:

“‘Maybe La Sinfonia poetica was my attempt to preserve you and me,’ said Nayo. ‘To safeguard what we’ve found and share this. To allow for this and celebrate it. Or perhaps it was my escape from things I didn’t want to accept. After all, the sketches were the things that kept me going through it all. But it never felt like a retreat because without them, that exhibition would never have happened. The drawings were the balance I need to counteract the darkness.’”

For Jose, the other main character in the novel, it is philosophy that helps him grapple with Duende. For both Jose and Nayo, it is love that keeps them from falling down the edge, and who knows if Nayo painted discreet, warm rays of light in his paintings, to protect both viewers and himself, from the dark struggle which at times threatens to swallow us into oblivion.

“‘I want neither world nor dream, divine voice,
I want my liberty, my human love,
In the darkest corner of the breeze no-one wants.
My human love!’ [Lorca writes.]

‘The freedom and the right to love. Not an ideal but a basic and fundamental necessity. That which makes us human and through which humanity finds its name’ Jose’ begins his lecture…”

Jose and Nayo love one another, and are in an intimate relationship with each other, within a brutal and oppressive society, which is spiraling down the vortex of violence.

Violence demands the annihilation of the other, or sometimes of oneself, desiring the nonexistence of the other, or of the self, or of both; that other or the self, struggle for life and for existence. It is love that welcomes us into existence. To some degree or another, all human beings experience the tension between living – being fully present within existence, and the danger of fading away, cast out into the dark emptiness of nonexistence, rejection. It is rejection which seems to be the fundamental fear of the human person, by a loved one, or by life itself, and Duende dances, plays on and invites us to struggle and keep moving forward.

The socio-political context of Jose and Nayo accentuate this struggle for existence; the conservatives want to eliminate those who are on the left and liberal, while the left and the liberals want to eliminate the conservatives, and sometimes each other as well, because they are unable to figure out an alternative working model for a functioning political system. All of them desiring the ‘Utopia Society’, yet unable to figure out, the way to found such a civilization, without rejecting the other, murder. Yet again, the butterfly and the cockroach fail to acknowledge their common roots, and for both sides these roots seem to be drinking from that same murderous desire out of which Cain drank, that of establishing one’s own kingdom through the elimination of the rival other, failing to understand, that it is in loving inclusion and not murderous exclusion, that the blessing is found.

“Jose’ also thought of the cockroach’s love for the butterfly and how the pretty butterfly could never see any possibility of beauty in her suitor, vainly oblivious to the similarity of their roots.”

Isn’t this the foolishness that lies at the root of all human murder? Could this be the reason why Lorca’s El Maleficio de la Mariposa, was so forcefully rejected, because it exposed that which is so basic and primal, hidden within our collective denial?

Maybe, it is because I myself am gay, but it seems to me that the experience of Duende is intensified for the gay person, especially for those living in oppressive societies, like we ourselves did a few years back, where existence was not a guarantee within such a context and structures. Being allowed to go through the motions of life yes, but living? fully present in the ‘I AM’ existence? That is only for the chosen few. Being welcomed into life, that is; to be loved and invited to love others, had to remain hidden in darkness, and that big part of you had to remain repressed and tucked away. You are not a child invited to play in the garden, but a creature that has to survive somewhere in the sub terrain, or somewhere in-between. And yet, the roots are the same, those of a shared humanity, and as a number of us recognize today, what was presented as sacred exclusion, was merely a deadly game of shadow projections, and violent scapegoat mechanisms, devoid of anything of the real sacred, as Rene’ Girard and James Alison helped us understand over the years. Duende is not an exclusive experience of the gay person, but gay people articulate this experience often, or at least at an earlier age, and we struggled to get out of that deadly bind, many are still struggling. In some countries this has been achieved, at least at the civil-legislative level, but is the struggle truly over? In reality, this is the condition of anyone fighting with one form of oppression or another, brought about by external or internal forces. The struggle, not only reveals our shared frail humanity, but also our commonly flawed nature, bent towards violence, as Rene’ Girard terms as, “things hidden since the foundation of the world.”

Jose and Nayo, like others similar to them, find a way how to live in-between genuine existence and hiding, in-between the light of love and the shadows of invisibility. However, while they partially hide and partially expose themselves as a couple, they fully expose their radical ideas, their belief in another kind of world, their struggle with duende, through their philosophy and art. They both know that there is something inherently wrong with violence, not matter which camp it’s coming from.

“Nayo began to think about what extinction meant to him and came up with two ideas. Firstly, from what Jose’ had said, dead forms retain some existence in the living forces which subsume them. He tried to understand this from a political point of view and in the context of the turbulence all around him. Did this mean that when one political regime usurps another, the new power structure inescapably constrains traces of that which it opposed?”

It is love that beckons us to life, but if that love you have to give is rejected, pushed back into the formless world of darkness, how does one exist?

I was not surprised to find ‘Form’ as another strong theme within this novel. Form is linked to both existence and oppression, and the LGBTI communities struggled and struggle with both. Today we call these forms civil unions, civil partnerships, or marriage equality, but it is form that we are talking about, it is existence, it is witness. It is a form, for a love between two people that asks to be witnessed and invites the community to share in that love, as other forms of love do, for existence, because existence is always relational. Maybe, one day, these ‘new’ forms will no longer be helpful for the gay community, and yet, it was form that was required and needed, to assert existence over oblivion, light over darkness.

Nothingness is a scary place to be in, though ironically, it is there that Love leads us towards anyway, as a Spanish mystic Juan de la Cruz tells us. However, this other nothingness is a nothingness filled with the fullness of selfless love, in contrast to the nothingness of nonexistence, void of warmth and the result of hiding and the refusal of life. Maybe Lorca, Jose and Nayo, desired this form, to reassure them that yes, their love exists, and like others they are called to live and love. I wonder if Lorca dreamed of these possibilities, or if it was a too far removed possibility within the context he lived in.

“If Life is still true and poetry exists,
If someone knocks your door and you are sad, please open it.
It is love calling, my dearest friend,” he writes…

Irrespective of form, at the end of the day, Duende seems to be pointing in one direction, that the struggle is one; it is between love and the forces that oppose love. Though the forces of darkness may appear to be more powerful, it is always love that wins the struggle in the end, but the price for that can be life itself.

Duende tells us that nonexistence is void of substance. Violence is empty and death itself can be filled with life. Even that same violent death, which aims at eliminating the physical existence of the other, does not succeed to achieve its goal, because Love knows no boundaries, and Love plays the game of life using different rules, and not according to the petty ones used by violent human beings. While violence appears to be all-powerful and threatening, and it does bring about fragmentation, immense suffering and chaos, it is Love that has the final word, and says, Yes I exist, I AM, and I call you to love others and yourself.

Through her novel, Lizzie Eldridge tells us that desire is a dangerous force, it can become the means of our own destruction if not properly channeled, but isn’t it desire itself that initiates us into the Duende? Desire is that primal force that can lead us into loving relationships, or destructive ones. Isn’t this Duende?; the forces of desire, the forces of love, and the forces for destruction, struggling within us, and outside of us? And isn’t Love trying to teach desire to let go of the finite, to be able to glimpse something of the infinite, something of that greater desire, that is not in rivalry with human desires, and where human beings can finally find their own fulfillment?

For Lizzie Eldridge, desire is not the only powerful and dangerous force for the human person to struggle with, but so are ideas, which can also be either life giving or dangerously violent, especially when these become ideology. Aren’t ideas expressing something of that same desire? For Lizzie Eldridge, like Ortega, ideas and life are inseparable, because they transmit emotions and life itself – maybe ideas give form to desire?

“’The thing I love about him most,’ Jose said to Nayo, [referring to Ortega], ‘is his insistence that ideas can’t be separated from life and life can’t survive without ideas.’”

Eldridge tells us that words have the ability to transform the mundane into something mystical, because words can carry us from this life to the next, in a way as the novel Duende itself does. A beautiful insight which again reminds me of the experiences of Juan de la Cruz, words which might have carried him through his own very difficult life circumstances, and struggle with love. Poetry, becoming for him an important compass for navigation through the various layers of darkness, and isn’t this similar to the experience of Lorca and other poets?

“When I am away from you
What life can I have
Except to endure
The bitterest death known?
I pity myself,
For I go on and on living,
Dying because I do not die’” Juan de la Cruz writes.

For Jose and Nayo, for Lorca, and for so many others who have struggled and are struggling for life and existence, words can also be a form of ‘exorcism’, to face the demons which we encounter on our journey while searching for that place we can call home. While the demons of destruction taunt us; it does not exist, you are rejected from paradise, you are exiled.

“Being a fugitive living in the woods at the time, I had to write before it got dark. Now darkness was approaching again, only more insidiously. It was the dark night of death. I really had to finish my memoirs before nightfall. I took it as a challenge.” Reinaldo Arenas

Jose knew the power of the word, to the point that he knew that every word he spoke in defense of freedom could put his life on the line, and yet for him silence seemed equally dangerous. For Lorca and others, this was their human fate. However, these lives become immortal within human memory, reminding us that it is better to live dangerously, than not to live at all, because even one small gesture of pure love, resounds eternity, because love, truth and perfection are not separate but one and the same.

And Duende, possibly in the form of a jester in the square, whispers a song about a little bit of wind, carrying a little word that is stronger than all the power of the world, than all the forces of death and all the violence these contain. Duende, similar to that little wind, carrying that little word, can never be tamed, but only released, listened to, and followed, or maybe planted, because maybe, and just maybe, Paradise is not far after all, maybe, we have been there all along.

“if Paradise was ever lost completely
if light grew dead
and darkness embraced my mind
if the curve of your body
became a shadow
and the sky collapsed within the sea
I, sleepless, would forever search for you…

…you are all I want
all I could need
it’s you I find
infinite and dancing
in the pathways of my soul.” Lizzie Eldridge

Mario Gerada

For those who wish to read the novel, you can log on:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Duende-Lizzie-Eldridge/dp/1502857227/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1429441205&sr=8-1&keywords=lizzie+eldridge+duende

A Meditation on Reality

Days and Nights of Love and War by Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano’s book is a meditative journey through Latin America during the 1970s. The writing combines Galeano’s astute and terse journalistic accuracy as well as lyrical prose, and this also captures the overriding atmosphere of the book. It moves seamlessly between the personal and the wider and terrifying political landscape in which people are literally eliminated at the click of a finger: through murder, torture and ‘disappearance’:

‘”he technique of the ‘disappeared’: there are no prisoners to claim, no martyrs to mourn. The earth devours the people and the government washes its hands. There are no crimes to denounce nor explanations to give. Each death dies over and over again until, finally, the only thing your soul retains is a mist of horror and uncertainty.”

In an atmosphere of terror and the ever-present possibility of extinction, Galeano captures the minute details of the lives of the people who live and breathe within these days and nights of love and war. Always extraordinary because the context and the writing lifts anything remotely resembling the mundane far far above this.

The book interweaves the political realities with the experience of these realities, forever integrating the micro and macro, thus capturing the self-same and fluctuating nature of lived experience. It moves between a present and a past, resembling a meditative memory process in which connections are continually formed, like snapshots or fragments which are caught and linger on the breath, sometimes with pleasure and, more often, acute pain.

Days and Nights of Love and War is more than an historical document and more than a personal memoir. It is both and at the same time. With its vast scope and its intense humanity, it is a truly phenomenal piece of writing.

Book Review: The Tragedy of Fidel Castro by Joao Cerqueira

Right from the start, the author of The Tragedy of Fidel Castro gives us a wink by distancing his fictional characters from their exceptionally famous namesakes. Christ, God, JFK bear no resemblance to their well-known counterparts. Only Fidel Castro ‘has some similarities with the revolutionary leader and dictator.’
A bold beginning which sets the tone for what’s to come, with the reader plunged into the realms of the satirical and surreal, a world of fantasy instantly recognisable as our own.
The title of Cerqueira’s novel is indeed its theme and a vivid, sometimes painful, picture is painted of Castro as an ailing dictator, struggling to maintain control over his country. The futility and pathos underlying this echoes the prevalent mood of Marquez’ The Autumn of the Patriarch.
Amidst the irreverent and ironic humour of the book, there’s also some poignant and revealing moments. Towards the end of the story, Castro briefly re-experiences the strength of his charismatic powers but realises that: the price he had paid for the fear of being assassinated – losing contact with the people –
had maybe been greater than death itself.
Meanwhile, God and Christ look on over the proceedings which play out like the final stand-off between Capitalism and Communism. At the beginning, Christ is understandably apprehensive about returning to earth given his fate the last time round but God, in a delightfully human act of coercion, plays the guilt card in order to shift responsibility on to the shoulders of his son. Christ responds with hurt – an equally human emotion – to the inference that both JFK and Castro were influenced by his own teachings. In a quiet moment of self-reflection, Christ begins to doubt his own convictions, wondering if his theories about social equality are, ultimately, utopian.
It’s this bleak depiction of the human condition which underpins the clever humour of the novel and, at times, I found it difficult to reconcile the two as pessimism offset my laughter. Having said that, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is more than worth reading. While not for the intellectually fainthearted, its playful and imaginative scope creates a vast and fantastical landscape which forever verges on our own.

Book Review: Walking Wounded by William McIlvanney

McIlvanney’s collection of short stories is a tribute to the ordinary and the mundane, capturing the tiny fragments of people’s lives while elevating their hopes, regrets, dreams and musings on to another plane entirely. Some moments make you laugh out loud while elsewhere, the poignancy is heartbreaking. As you read, characters from previous stories reappear briefly and this, coupled with the lyrical prose and realistic dialogue, gives the book a delightful and unforced unity.
In one story, ‘Beached’, which is barely 500 words long, McIlvanney is like an internal photographer as he captures a young widow’s response to a couple she glimpses on the beach. In this brief moment, she recognises ‘a promise life had made to her a while ago, a promise only fully known in its departure.’
The stories are of yearning, hopes and possibilities which may, somehow just may, be fulfilled. The pages are filled with the lives of the little, and supposedly insignificant, people, but McIlvanney’s depiction endows them with a grandeur which truly situates them as the real stuff from which history is made.
Powerful, evocative and deeply moving.