A young man holds his grief over the death of a friend in check by watching over his granduncle; a quietly impressive (if overlong) fourth novel from the Irish Healy (Sudden Times, 2000, etc.).
Philip Feeney, also known as Mister Psyche, lives in the village of Ballintra on the Atlantic with his Da, a handyman, and his Ma, a hospital nurse. While waiting for his junior college exam results and doing odd jobs, he looks after his granduncle, Joejoe, who lives alone. He makes his tea and reads to him from the Bible and even scratches his back (the old man has psoriasis). Joejoe’s other visitor is known as the Blackbird, a loner slipping into his dotage like Joejoe. Then a shocking event occurs. A bullet is fired through Joejoe’s window. The old man suspects another neighbor, the General, nursing a 50-year-old grudge over a woman, but that’s ridiculous. Philip’s Da believes the Blackbird is the shooter, but has no proof. It will only be much later that the surprising truth emerges. The old men represent an ancient culture that in 2006 eurozone Ireland is vanishing; Poles and Lithuanians have arrived, looking for work. Much of the novel is beautifully captured dialogue, though Philip seldom says more than two words at a time. He professes not to have an interior life. Part of him has closed down, and only scattered hints tell us why. A year before, his close friend Mickey Brady, driving drunk, died in an accident. Frustratingly for the reader, and surely too for Philip’s loyal girlfriend, Anna, the catharsis never comes; the balance is off. When he’s not looking after Joejoe, Philip devotes his energy to building a wall for his mother’s future vegetable garden; it’s a symbol of regeneration. The novel’s second half is increasingly elegiac as the two mutually dependent old-timers totter toward the grave.
An affecting account of the love that leaps across a generation.