Tell Your Own Story
Myth, Narrative and Social Action through Contemporary Fiction by Lynn BuckleMake Your Submission to Writing & Me
When whispers over book club tables warn of very strong themes, will members read this or bury it under shelves, under things to do lists? Like Cassie, one of the protagonists, who hides whatever disturbs her under mud-piles in the garden. ‘There’s a whole village living under there,’ exclaims her uncle. But the real ones are ignoring her behind their net curtains. The challenge of engaging readers to confront gritty issues is not a new one when writing social realism. Authors such as Margaret Atwood have long since sought to expose society through their literature, to awaken audiences, to fuel debate. The Handmaid’s Tale, set in a dystopian patriarchy, barely softens the blow that it is really about the times we live in now. The Groundsmen goes right to the point. As did Roddy Doyle over twenty years ago when he wrote The Woman Who Walked into Doors. Avoidance being the reality of ‘domestic problems,’ women and children are left to flounder but the writer must engage readers in order to carry them through the journey. Kristin Hannah aptly achieves this in her recent novel The Great Alone, where she writes of violence and control on an Alaskan scale. But she buys your soul with enticing descriptions of mountainous regions and survivalist living.
In The Groundsmen it is the beautiful prose which shines against the darkness, an effortless lyricism compelling you to read further, carrying you along on an enthralling rhythm. It soothes the reader with lilting cadences and gentle interjections of humour. A child’s imagination is our escapism, a necessary foil to the events going on. We find this in Cassie’s dioramas, in her therianthropy, in her playthings. But even these are telling us stories which, like her namesake Cassandra, are being ignored. Tales of scandals, of victims of their family’s making. Such things are happening in every housing estate, leafy avenue, caravan and mansion as you read this today. Generations repeating behaviours on an epic scale. What better allegories to use than those of the Greek Gods and Goddesses whose legends were the ultimate in family drama. These classical references serve to reinforce and clarify plot, character and theme. For example the inversion of the story of Calypso and Odysseus and the hiding of secrets. Or Andromeda who was offered as sacrifice by her parents. These are not rewrites of ancient mythology, this novel is a new myth for the modern age, showing how far we have yet to go.
The immersion into character via five alternating first-person narratives and their streams of consciousness can become overwhelming when the experience becomes unsavoury. These contentious scenes warrant explanation. Louis’ demeaning description of having sex with his wife demonstrates how domestic abuse is more about control and power than the act of abuse itself. The reader is discomforted by Louis’ brutal fantasies. He is not yet acting them out but his misogyny is evident in his thought processes, to which we are privy, highlighting the fact that normalisation and desensitisation to hard-core porn will eventually result in brutality. It is crucial in building our understanding of the depth of his disdain for women, for himself and for others. It is crucial that we disapprove.
‘It goes against my feminist principles to read any further,’ stated one reviewer. It goes against the author’s feminist principles to ignore the issue. Another reviewer discovered a new understanding of a woman’s inability to leave an abusive relationship though reading about coercive and financial control, along with the more well-known stereotypes of physical and sexual violence. This opens debate, exposes the reality that 26% of all Irish women have been abused by their partner. It is their discomfiture the author makes you feel, on their behalf. This book is necessary. As in Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, with its dubious relations, powerful writing hits you in the stomach and leaves you reeling. Along with the likes of June Caldwell and Emilie Pine, there is an emergent school of writers who are busily exposing inequities and redefining female Irish identities, demanding agency.
The Groundsmen is heart-felt storytelling with a message. At the end of which you will feel something. And that, after all, is art getting your attention. The author and Safe Ireland are working together to change attitudes, change society, create new realities for women and children.
(c) Lynn Buckle
About The Groundsmen:
The Groundsmen delves into the fractured lives of a family blemished by a darkly disturbing past. The secrets kept hidden over multiple generations taint them all and as events spiral out of control in a cycle of violence, none of them will escape. The narrative is told from the perspective of five individual family members:
Louis is trapped under the dark shadow of his past with Toby.
Cally retreats to a world of myth and seeks a salvation that eludes her.
Andi is caught in a degenerate relationship of dependency and control.
Cassie is turning into a dog and burying the wreckage of all their lives in the garden.
Over them all looms the dark presence of the Groundsman’s hut.
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