Solar Bones

By Kathrin Kobus

Pictured: Author Mike McCormack. Photo: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography.

Literary Dublin, literary Ireland. The month of June sees one event after another, sometimes two or more in one week as is the case with Yeats and Bloomsday. These celebrate the canon but contemporary literature also leaves its marks.

The Dublin Literary Award is a highly regarded and coveted prize, for a novel written in English or translated into English. The award has been made since 1996. Previously called the IMPAC, Dublin City Libraries manages the awards and sponsor the substantial prize money of €100,000 (since 2015.)

All books that are put forward are nominated by readers via libraries all over the world.

Since November 2017 a panel of five judges patiently read through 150 books, written in 18 languages coming from 37 countries and 111 cities. This longlist was whittled down to a group of ten by April this year and among them two Irish entries, Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians and Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones.

It was the latter, who was declared the winner for his novel. He recounted in his acceptance speech at twelve minutes to twelve, before the midday Angelus bells (and readers of the book will understand the significance of this) how he got the news. “I was on my way home on the bus. Got off and walked towards our house. I suffered my own disbelief. So I double checked by text with my agent that it was really true before I told my wife.”

The novel details the life reflections of an engineer, Marcus Conway, after his death. The reader knows from the outset the main protagonist speaks to them from the other side. The prose of this one-sentence book, (it eschews all usual grammar to read as one long sentence) can be challenging at times and demands focus. A quick flick through, summer romance it is not.

Just think about the words in the title, Solar as an adjective to bones? How is that possible? In reality, in fantasy or just in a dream? Then the reading experience is an otherworldly zone of words, phrases and juxtapositions that cling to each other form sentences, paragraphs and pages that form seamlessly into one, long stretched out, meandering thought, about the meaning of life itself.

The quality of the writing had already been recognized, scooping the prestigious Goldsmiths Prize, the Novel of the Year Award and Book of the Year Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

With four awards now and prize money of €100,000 it is easy to forget that the manuscript had gone through the hands of several publishers and was rejected several times before Tramp Press published it. The publishers, Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen celebrated with Mike McCormack at the ceremony at the Mansion House. It was a triple success on the day for Irish author, agent and publishers.

Most of all the Dublin Literary Award is a celebration for libraries everywhere and highlights the necessity for them. Mike McCormack underlined this, when he remembered how his interest in reading started in his local library. “The library there was a single room in the town hall. Since then, I have been to libraries all over the world, but they are just a bigger echo of that first library.”

The ceremony for 2018 may be over, but the nominations for next year are already under way. Libraries from 177 countries will again choose their literary favourites.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack publishers Tramp Press is available at €15.00