Elevate Difference


Nuala Ní Chonchúir's début novel tells the tale of a young girl who interprets the life she and her siblings inhabit in their urban Gothic surroundings with simple yet insightful prose. Set against the ominous and symbolic backdrop of the River Liffey, You contrasts the seeming simplicity of the girl's conclusions about her eventful life with the deeper and more complex ramifications of her mother's behaviour.

There is a central, and somewhat obvious, tragedy to Ní Chonchúir's story, and readers who are unfamiliar with her work may see this as the core of the novel itself; however, Ní Chonchúir is a quiet intellect and You is far more complex than the breezy, fast-flowing, colloquial narrative suggests. The real tragedy of You is its framing of society's criterion for a failed woman.

Woman, in all her broken states, is embodied in You's character tour de force, and each has her patriarchal compare. The protagonist's mother takes up with the picaresque Kit, local butcher and lad about town, and in a scene redolent of Joseph Ferdinand Gueldry's The Blood-Drinkers, he takes her a meat offering, which the protagonist turns away from in revulsion. In accepting the bloody gifts, the protagonist's mother is made a prostitute in her daughter's eyes, even if the young girl does not yet know that word, and perhaps an addict in the reader's. The mother's seeming inability to direct her own course in life is a source of consternation to her daughter, yet, in the novel's pivotal scene, it is the inaction of three males that brings about what will be regarded as the books most memorable tragedy.

Ní Chonchúir's skill is her ability to subvert and to break down labels, racism, and sexism included, into their core traits and to show they are seamless, as an estuary. She makes accessible to a wide audience what has often hid in the dense prose of high-end literary fiction and been the seminar agitator of choice for academics. Her prose is both dignifying and empowering to her subjects, and it is her psychological ableness which will mark Ní Chonchúir as a writer of significance.

Cross-posted at Melusine

Written by: Rachel J. Fenton, August 29th 2010