Malarky by Anakana Schofield

Malarky (Biblioasis, 2012) deals with death and sex and most of all, with grief, and it’ll probably stand as my funniest book of the year. In the opening scene, the mentally disturbed protagonist (“Our Woman”) is confessing to the grief counselor that she’s plagued with thoughts about her recent widowhood. “Tell me about these thoughts,” asks the counselor, assuring her that it’s all been heard before. “Men,” she replies. “Naked men. At each other all the time, all day long.” “Well, now,” replies the counselor, falling silent.

Our Woman is a middle-aged farmer’s wife in Ireland, whose life becomes unglued when she discovers her much-loved son’s homosexuality, and then, her husband’s infidelity. Tea and housework routines make up the bulwark of her defense, but she then decides to “figure this muck out” by experiencing such things herself.

And so Our Woman sets off on a delirious, tragic journey of sexual exploration.  She begins with a one-time encounter with a “ginger haired male, humpy towards mid forty” who, during sex, says “you’re great, great, you’re a great girl the same affectionate way farmers talk to their cows—go on there and hup hup ya, hup there,” and then moves on to an affair with a security guard of Syrian origin. But when she loses her husband and then her son, Our Woman gets drunk on sorrow and guilt, and her grief, failing to find a logical escape,  develops its own erratic modes of reasoning.

Malarky’s narrator has such a convincing voice that this book seems more like an act of clairvoyance than the fruit of any known authorial procedure. Schofield gives us a front-row seat to a wife’s mind. (“I married a man and if you marry one, this is what you do. You organize the things that disturb him.”) Our Woman is brilliantly executed–her erratic actions are invested with a sincerity of purpose that calls foremost upon our compassion. And oh, the writing! Filled with energy and bite, the prose spurns any tendency to prettiness, and moves between extremes of pain and humor with astounding ease. (“It’s easy to forget widows. They illuminate themselves once a year around anniversaries of other people dying. Then people remember they are the remnants of the person who has gone.”)

Malarky isn’t an easy read–it’s divided into episodes that sometimes appear disjointed, it dodges and weaves and loops back in time, and shifts points of view rapidly. Schofield’s stylistic choices demand that the reader work hard at the text. But that’s no more than I was expecting. Like all great works, Malarky offers up to reader as much as they’re willing to put in.


A much-edited version of this review is forthcoming in Herizons magazine.