Suzy is a 17-year old Dublin girl in post Celtic Tiger Ireland. Her father collects properties like people collect stamps, lending a suggestion of foreboding to the plot. The health of his heart is questionable at all times throughout the book, with a direct line between the success of the property ladder and the success of his heart. Suzy is surrounded by a solid army of two friends, Serena and Holly and the novel sees them develop, as a group and as individuals. Suzy’s development is hindered or perhaps shaped by her family life, toxic tension hangs in the air at home and William Wall allows us to explore teenage development when navigating so many obstacles and moral hurdles.
Wall’s style is extraordinary, he does not utilise sentimentality in his writing and typically there is no happy ending as such, he mimics real life as much as possible in his books. Therein lies the strength and the enduring appeal of his writing. Suzy is a teenager who is living through the collapse of the property market, the tension this creates at home, the strained relationship with her mother (to the extent she envisions her mother’s death on a regular basis), the moral dilemma between friendship loyalty and matters of the heart; and the wild abandon with which teenage years are often approached.
Suzy’s tone is darkly comedic which lifts what has the potential to be a bleak plot. Yet at the same time, this comedic tone provides an acceptance in this young girl, which serves to remind us how vulnerable she is and how the negligence shown her by her family is damaging and heartbreaking. She accepts the pitfalls and curveballs associated with being a teenager, she navigates the chaos of the fall of the Celtic Tiger and she lets the razorblades slice her skin as she self harms. William Wall is unflinching in his exploration of the world through the eyes of a teenager. We can often forget that the problems encountered as adults are seen by those of a younger age, those problems may not be discussed but teenagers and children absorb those problems until we have inadvertently offloaded some of our burden onto the shoulders of those who should not wear that weight. That weight can have catastrophic effects as children continue to develop.
The walls in Suzy’s life are teeming with the unspoken; secret trysts, questions of sexuality, financial and marital woes. Those walls begin to sag as the plot progresses and the female narrative voice rises above all others to become a reliable narrator and a strength in the plot. I was left with many questions at the end, some of which I was happy to continue pondering and others which I was frustrated with, yet the overall result was a feeling that I had been allowed, however briefly, to be a silent witness into the life of a teenager. We were all once in that mindset and I think, in fact, I’m certain that time eats away at those memories until we forget the importance we placed on friendships, on relationships and how we desperately tried to keep homelife separate from personal life outside the home but how inevitably, they merged. Through Suzy, William Wall reminds us of this in his trademark lyrical way. He is a wordsmith.
(c) Dymphna Nugent
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