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The Map of Tenderness

By William Wall

As with his previous novels, Alice Falling and Minding Children, in The Map of Tenderness William Wall is again probing the often vicious and violent, or painful and perverse, undercurrents bubbling away below respectable facades, be they that of what goes on behind the nebulous, catch-all term ‘society’ in general, when used as a cover for individual lives, or that of individuals’ public lives and behaviour, their social selves, being wildly at variance with their private equivalent. While the other two books dealt respectively with sadomasochism and ephebephilia, and child abuse and serial murder, this time terminal illness and euthanasia are chillingly but sensitively handled.

Joe Lyons is a thirty-something reclusive writer of modest means, with one long-term love affair behind him, who meets Suzie, a young music teacher, at a fruit stall in a market. He has already alienated his mother with his autobiographical debut novel, and is alienated by his fundamentalist pro-lifer sister, Mary, who has anyway emigrated to America with her engineer husband. Only his father keeps in touch. But as things take off with Suzie, he begins to think that there can be happy endings after all.

Then news comes that his mother is seriously ill, and both Joe and Mary return to the family farm. She is in the terrible final stages of Huntingdon’s Chorea, a hereditary disease Joe calls ‘neural cell death’, which helps to explain some of the eccentricities of their childhood. Joe is forced to contemplate the possibility of his own slow slide into the debilitating, hallucinatory disease, and its implications for his future with Suzie. Through his father’s example and Suzie’s belief, he comes to see love as self-sacrificing instead of self-seeking, and tender as well as passionate.

Less bitter and more subtle than his preceding work, The Map of Tenderness gives further evidence of Wall’s wonderful gifts as a dark and sensuous stylist, with aching flights of lyricism. He really is shaping up to be among the very best of the almost overabundant crop of Irish literary production during the last decade.

First published in the Irish Independent


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