People are calling this the golden age of essay writing, as more and more writers pen their own experience analogous to the society and world we live in. Have lived in. And will live in. Minor Monuments is a terrific addition to this era. And one that leaves you, to misquote the publishers, “quietly devastated”.
Minor Monuments is a perfect example of the talent and broad range of artistic license displayed by our upcoming writers. Its events are not grandiose; this is not about the ultimate suffering of a troubled person, this is about the minor moments that make a full life. The little markers that represent the who, what and where of our own personal narratives.
Ostensively about his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease, this book is about much more. For one, it is about the cognitive dissonance of an individual. Maleney writes of something which many of us “culchies” have experienced. A desperate need to escape our rural surroundings; coupled with a growing need to explain them. The hunt to find our place in them, even when we felt we never truly belonged anyway. And, as the author travels between, the dissonance between a nation, and its capital. Making a place that is unsure of where it just was, let alone where it is going.
His prose resonated deeply with me, and the gentle way in which the essays gain momentum is a testimony to the skilled hand weaving the pattern before us. It is very clear, very early on, where this book will end, but it is in what it will show us before we get there that is its true magnificence.
The tragedy, that many of us know too well, is told by Dementia, Alzheimer’s and their related conditions, and is brought to bear incrementally, as the story of a district and the author himself unfolds. From Seamus Heaney’s funeral, to a reclaimed bog, we see the beauty of the authors homeland, that sometimes seems frozen in time, sometimes seems lost forever. Through writing about rural Ireland, we see its modern counterpart plainly, and glimpse into a community that isn’t too far flung from the many villages and towns across Ireland. And ones that have been subsumed by Dublin over the last century. Communities bound by industry, and slowly drained of life by progress.
There are moments when the author feels like a stranger in his own home, a feeling not just linked to Irish diaspora returning, but to many a country person who returns to their home county to find they revert to their former selves. The same insecurities and problems that pervaded childhood come to the forefront, and as powerful as the feeling to return was, it quickly replaced upon arrival by the desire the escape once more.
As Maleney struggles to explain to his family what work as a writer actually entails, he feels a fraud and still a child among the hard working “adults” of his home. A feeling which can be shared by most people of a new generation, believing they must justify their decisions to the previous one. While expecting no justification themselves.
Sound plays a crucial part in the essays, as it does in the authors life, and through Maleney’s attempt to literally record the world around him, he helps us understand even a near perfect simulacrum is still just that, a copy, and it is in the genuine experience that true perception is found.
There is still so much more to discuss from this book. It is a crucial work on the evolution of our rural communities and the effects of the modern world on an ageing population. But also on the ageing populations effect on the younger one. On the loss of tradition and the void that it leaves behind. To be filled by something new, but not necessarily better or worse.
Maleney’s use of artistic references is eclectic, and often nostalgic. But, in truth, it is a tragic piece. It’s not clear whether the author himself has found what he is looking for by the time we reach its conclusion. But, perhaps, he never will, because that is what life is about isn’t it? The journey, and not the destination. Its is about the minor monuments we find along the way, and the hands that built them.
(c) Emmet James Driver
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