The River Capture by Mary Costello
Available via Bolinda Borrowbox as an eBook
This is certainly different from any other books I have read lately, although I haven’t read Mary Costello’s first novel. The cover looks peaceful and and the blurb sounded interesting, especially the homage to James Joyce and Ulysses and so I happily headed into it with expectations that changed the further into it I read.
It’s a long time since I have read Ulysses, so many of the references went over my head, but I will be reading it again now. I spent much time while reading the book looking up references that echoed in my head but I wasn’t quite sure where they came from. The first sentence for example echoes the first sentence of the novel Ulysses.
The plot is set in rural Waterford on the banks of the river Sullane. Luke is on sabbatical from his teaching job in Dublin but he just can’t seem to move himself to action, spending his time visiting his elderly aunt, enjoying the animals on his family property, especially his cat, and not much else really. He has dreams of writing a book on Joyce or of even opening a school with a curriculum based on Joyce’s work. Luke’s passion for James Joyce influences the way he thinks about the world and the way he behaves and we gain a detailed insight into his personality as the novel progresses. And then he meets Ruth, falls for her and unexpected difficulties arise in their relationship. This first part of the book is delivered in present tense.
Then the second part of the book is in a question and answer style, mirroring the Ithaca section of Ulysses, with questions posed and answered in long rather rambling philosophical prose. This prose felt like poetry and in fact I found myself saying some of it out loud just to hear the sound of it. There are lots of lists. Luke’s mind wanders through all kinds of philosophical problems and issues and the river and river capture, the geographical feature, become a metaphor for the choice he is forced to make.
This is a remarkable book with a challenging structure and a myriad of literary illusions to follow. But even without understanding all of these references to Joyce it is a book which leaves a lasting impression.