This is the Way by Gavin Corbett (First published in Great Britain by Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2013)
‘They was fish says my mother. The Sonaghans and the Gillaroos all was once fish. And you heard of this place Melvin where the families is from. All that’s there now is a pond but it was all once a lake where the Sonaghan fish and the Gillaroo fish did live.”
This is the Way is narrated by Anthony Sonaghan, an Irish traveller who is lying low in a crumbling tenement house in Dublin. Anthony, living fearfully in the shadow of an ancient family feud, is joined by his roguish uncle Arthur, apparently on the run himself, who appears in Dublin with a toe set into his hand in lieu of a missing thumb.
The story is told in Anthony’s voice as he and Arthur range the streets of Dublin. Anthony’s perspective is that of an outsider living on the periphery of society. His observations are a blend of naïve, perceptive and melancholic, couched in unsentimental language but shot through with a certain spirit of myth and romance, conjuring a vision of Anthony, his family and Ireland in which an ancient spirits interweave with contemporary life.
I thought it was beautiful. There’s a moment in the book where Anthony talks about a conversation he had with Conchita, a Spanish exchange student staying at his father’s house. Conchita had described how she believed the true test of whether you love someone is how you react if you imagine you are strangling that person to death:
“She says if you see in their eyes [in your imagination] as they look at you for one last time a look of being confused and suddenly sadness and if then what you feel then outside your imagination is sadness and you want to go to that person you imagined murdering and hold them and they do not know where this feeling in you of wanting to hold them close to you came from, but they are happy it is happening and the sense of this comes to you and you want to hold them tighter and with more love then that means you truly love them.”
According to that test, I truly loved this book. I can’t write anything horrible about the story. Some people might not fall for Anthony’s naivety or be able to forget the fact his very distinctive voice, dialect and state of estrangement are the bogus creation of an author but I did, what can I say, I’m a real sucker. Maybe, if I was a bit less of a romantic and a bit less taken in by an Irish accent and a star-crossed under-dog, I may not have found it so magical, but it made me feel glad it to have an hour long morning commute when I could read this, and helped me find a twinkle in some seriously bleak January days.