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By Katy Hayes

This is Katy Hayes’ first novel, although she has already published, if only in Ireland, 1995’s wonderfully witty and subversive collection of short stories, Forecourt. In many ways Curtains may seem like a natural progression from its predecessor, but it doesn’t quite have the bite or insight of many of the stories in Forecourt, and seems curiously tame and toned down by comparison. The problems of making the transition from short story to full length novel may account for some of the flatness here, but not entirely.

The setting is the claustrophobic and incestuous world of Dublin theatre, a milieu that Hayes, as a playwright and director, knows only too well, and which has also provided the source for a couple of the stories in Forecourt. Arlene - ‘actually it’s Ar-lay-nah’ - Morrissey is a successful producer putting together a production of Over The Moon, a first play by a young novelist, Isobel Coole. Isobel is outwardly a deranged wreck, throwing tantrums and attempting suicide, but it is implied that inwardly she has untold reserves of strength. Arlene is outwardly Ms Together, with a diary full of contact numbers and a plethora of telephones, but it is implied that inwardly she is crumbling. Isobel leaves her boyfriend and moves in with Arlene for the duration of the preparation and run of the show.

A wide range of characters tumble across the pages, including the actors (one of whom is Arlene’s ex-husband), the director, the cops, plus The Weirdo, who keeps leaving sinister personal messages on Arlene’s answering machine. Perhaps the funniest aspect of the book is Arlene’s recurring conversations with Paddy Kavanagh’s statue on the banks of the Royal Canal. But this imaginative leap is the exception rather than the rule, in what is an otherwise transparently realist text. There is the occasional nice phrase, like ‘He must have been sent by her fairy godmother or her guardian angel, depending on whether you had a Judaeo-Christian or a Hans Christian-Anderson view of the world’, but otherwise the style is for the most part dialogue driven and at times verges on journalese. There is a half-hearted attempt to introduce the abortion issue, but this remains unexplored. The ending is also rather weak and inconclusive. All in all, it reads like a somewhat more sophisticated, but tellingly less bitchy, Julie Burchill.

One only hopes that Ms Hayes will not resort to the reaction of her character Isobel Coole in the book, who goes around to the house of a reviewer, the appropriately named Tommy Hatchett, who gave her play an unfavourable notice, and interrupts a dinner party he is hosting in order to give him a piece of her mind.

With its easy to read, potential mass-market appeal, one feels the cinema or TV screen would probably be better media for this narrative. Or even, given its author’s experience and its subject matter, the theatre.

First published in Books Ireland



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