Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: Eoin McNamee's RESURRECTION MAN

Eoin McNamee is just one among several fine established authors of emerald noir, but he has lately become my favorite of them all.  His books are all still little known gems in the United States.  With each successive book, he soars in my estimation.  Let me tell you why you should be reading him too.

I can remember back a few decades ago, when we all sat around complaining that no one was writing like Faulkner anymore.  Fiction was in a state of fluff.  The new books that publishers were churning out all seemed superficial, commercial, fads and flavors of the month.  No one seemed to be dealing with the major human issues anymore, and brilliant prose seemed largely a thing of the past.

Along came Cormac McCarthy.  For many years, he was a recluse, a writer's writer; his books had small printings and even remaindered copies were scarce.  Back in 1993, a small gathering of scholars and academic professionals formed a society to further study and promote his parables.  Like Faulkner, McCarthy dealt with the universals, the eternal cycles, the human condition with its naturalistic violence and almost constant war.  And he wrote beautifully, always with an eye for the fleeting transcendent, for the dim eternal light beyond this temporal vale of darkness, beyond the scope of formal language.

Then the world at large began to read his work, more so every year.  In a thread at the Cormac McCarthy Society site, I used to maintain a list of those authors who said that their own work was in some measure inspired by McCarthy, but after a few years the list grew so fast that I could no longer keep up.  McCarthy's name also seems to be invoked fairly often as some sort of comparable yardstick in the reviews of first-time authors, some of whom may never have even read McCarthy.

In any event, not many of the novels compared with Cormac McCarthy pan out as such, but fortunately some do.  Eoin McNamee's 1994 novel, Resurrection Man, is among the very best of them.  For openers, I love the dustjacket on my copy of the hardcover edition (scanned above), the complicit mixture of light and doppelganger shadow, with the subtitle "a novel" buttoned into the shadow in blood red.  The illustration fits the subject matter of the novel.

The beauty of the novel is the telling, the prose, in the point of view which sees its frail humans with so much insight and compassion.  There is humor here too, in the irony of complicity in the face of denial.  Some people may be put off by the raw descriptions, as with McCarthy's novels, but this is an anti-violent novel of violence, ultimately a cautionary tale which tells it like it is, naturalism in parable.

I'm not saying that you'll see any Cormac McCarthy in Resurrection Man yourself, but to this reader, at times, McNamee takes on a McCarthyesque point of view, a way of seeing:

"A steamshovel reared in solitary abandonment against the night sky.  Cross here.  By frograils and fishplates where engines cough like lions in the dark of the yard.  To a darker town, past lamps stoned blind, past smoking oblique shacks and china dogs and painted tires where dirty flowers grow.  Down pavings rent with ruin, the slow cataclysm of neglect, the wires that belly up pole to pole across the constellations hung with kitestring, with bolos composed of hobbled bottles or the toys of smaller children.  Encampment of the damned."

That's from Suttree, which I think of now again when reading Eoin McNamee:

"The Harland and Wolff cranes are visible from everywhere in the city.  Scaffolding abandoned from the beginnings of the world.  A helicopter moved across the city with a searchlight picking out threadbare taxi companies and shops shuttered as though in the aftermath of looting.  Each lit area noted for its history of riot, pogrom, act of reprisal.  The Brickfields.  Smithfield."

I wouldn't say that this cinematic point of view is quite optical democracy, but it does see all with a subtle sense of compassion, like the Oversoul in the prologue to Suttree.  Down these streets no soul shall walk save you.

Eoin McNamee also turned his novel into a screenplay for a movie starring James Nesbitt, Stuart Townsend, John Hannah, and Geraldine O'Rawe--no doubt one you've never seen.  Don't miss out on the experience of reading the book, but later you may want to see the movie too--it is very well done.  Splendid acting all the way around, a nice soundtrack of seventies tunes mixed with Vivaldi, and several scenes stand out.  There is considerable graphic violence, so be warned there.  The ending might have you and your wife arguing about what happened and what it all means.  And that's a good thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment