Mouthing by Orla Mackey: ‘Night night now. Tomorrow will be lovely’

Cover image for Mouthing by Orla MackeyI liked the premise of Orla Mackey’s Mouthing. It put me in mind of Robert Seethaler’s The Field in which the dead remember their village, filled with all the gossip, machinations and scandalmongering you might expect from such a small community. Mackey’s debut tells the story of Ballygowan, tucked away in rural Ireland, over several generations beginning in the 1960s.

Then there was the funeral. What a glory that was. What a glory. Mammy brushed his teeth over and over before handing them to the undertaker.

Joe and Mona Muldowney enjoy a brief period of happiness and indulgence when their brutish father dies, liberating their mother. Once she’s gone, it’s clear the money’s run out. Father Lennon gets more than he bargained for when he takes on Mona as his housekeeper, a job she executes with relish appointing herself manager of the parish, the village looking on with amazement as their priest appears to enter his second childhood. Meanwhile, Catherine McManus has discovered a vocation much to the surprise of her parents, something that comes in handy when her dear friend Monica finds herself pregnant. Catherine contacts her sister convent’s maternity home in Australia and Monica’s hard living Aunt Kate takes her in but the adoption of her first child leaves its mark. A more informal adoption comes about for a child whose mother is lost to depression and whose father begins an affair leaving Ballygowan all agog. Jim Hickey has opinions about all of that and more, many of them measured, others strong.

Her little heart is full to the brim with hurt and mine is fit to burst from looking at her trying to balance it. Working all the time not to let it spill over, poor little crayture.

Mackey’s characters tell their own stories in a vivid vernacular, much of it threaded through with an enjoyably dark humour. Each has their own distinct voice and Mackey’s not afraid to take risks – Seán watches his wife from the grave, hoping for her happiness while little Joanne is desperate for her mother’s love, left alone to fend for herself – both risky narrative tricks to pull off but Mackey does it beautifully. Characters are not short of opinions about their fellow villagers, some sharp-tongued and judgemental, others more forgiving. They take a lively interest in the business of others but many have secrets of their own to protect and there are tragedies whose effects are far reaching. Jim Hickey’s final section neatly brings the preceding narratives together, fleshing out a few of the minor characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this cleverly constructed debut, told with a pleasingly acerbic wit and a sharp eye for human nature balanced with compassion. Yet another superbly talented Irish woman writer to add to my list. Looking forward to whatever Mackey comes up with next.

Hamish Hamilton London 9780241617298 240 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

19 thoughts on “Mouthing by Orla Mackey: ‘Night night now. Tomorrow will be lovely’”

  1. I haven’t heard of this new Irish writer, but it sounds like she has a lively imagination. I wonder did she get the idea for the name Ballygowan from the famous Irish spring water drink.

      1. That’s a new term for me …. polyphonic narrative. I have researched it Susan, and makes me keen to read a textbook displaying it. Thanks

  2. I’ve enjoyed books that give one stories of a whole village–with a look into each character’s life and perspectives (like Richmal Crompton’s books for instance)–the one sounds like it gives one a much stronger sense of the different characters’ voices as well.

    1. It’s a pleasing way to tell a story, isn’t it. I found it hard to believe this was a debut – she handled a complicated structure with very distinct voices so well.

  3. I too hadn’t come across ‘polyphonic narrative’, but your enthusiasm for the way in which Mackey uses it makes me keen to read this one. And shallow old me was taken by the cover as well.

  4. I appreciate your exactitude with “enjoyably” dark humour and “pleasingly” acerbic wit. I feel as though I’ve been burned by blurbs and jacket copy which promised more humour and more wit than I found (i.e. it wasn’t enjoyably or pleasingly, and I would have rather known so to start with). heheh

    1. I’m not sure what it is the Irish do in their education system but they certainy produce an outstanding number of excellent writers. This one’s another winner.

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