Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Bend for Home by Dermot Healy

307 Pages
Book Club Read

The blurb

One day, years after he's moved away from his childhood home in rural Ireland, Dermot Healy returns to care for his ailing mother. Out of the blue she hands him the forgotten diary he had kept as a fifteen-year-old. He is amazed to find the makings of the writer he has become, as well as taken aback at the changes his memory has wrought upon the events of the past. Here is the seed of his story-the vision of the boy meets the memory of the man-which creates a stunning, illusory effect.

The strange silhouettes who have haunted his past come back to inhabit these pages: his father, a kind policeman who guides him back to bed when he stumbles down the stairs sleepwalking; his mother, whose stories young Dermot has heard so often that he believes they are his own; or Aunt Masie, whose early disappointment in love has left her both dreamy and cynical. In this billowing and expansive series of recollections, Healy has traced the very shape of human memory.

My thoughts

‘What happened is a wonder, though memory is always incomplete, like a map with places missing. But it’s all right, it’s entered the imagination and nothing is ever the same.’

This was a fascinating read, and I have no idea what I want to say about it, or how to say it. The Bend for Home is as much a book filled with memories as it is a reflection on what memories are and what shapes them. It reminds us that memories can’t be trusted.

‘Language, to be memorable, dispenses with accuracy.’

But it also shows us that sometimes memories are better off staying hidden because not all our moments were such that we can be proud of them retrospectively.

‘Are you reading about the good old times? asked my mother.
I am, I said, wincing.
Aren’t you glad I kept it? she said.
Oh yes, I agreed.’

But, maybe more than anything this story is proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Families have always been and will continue to be a wonderful blessing interspersed with moments of pure frustration. Teenagers have always and will continue to push boundaries, try to spread their wings before they’re really ready to do so, and experiment with attraction, lust and love.

This is a book about beginnings and endings. Most of the book deals with Dermot Healy’s childhood and teenage years; the time when others looked after him, or tried to do so. The last section of the book tells of the time when Healy took care of his now elderly mother and aunt and life has gone full circle. He whose antics had been frowned upon but lovingly dealt with, now finds himself having to find the same patience while he looks after two strong minded but no longer able bodied women. This last part of the book was heartbreakingly honest.

‘Looking after mother is like watching language losing its meaning.’

If I had to label this book I’d call it a combination between memoir and philosophical essay. I enjoyed the historical look at Cavan, the county I live in, and the towns where I do my shopping, but I loved the all the statements and observations that made me stop reading and think. I could have filled this post with endless amounts of quotes and had a hard time limiting myself to those I did use. If you like a thought provoking and somewhat poetical memoir I recommend you pick up The Bend for Home.

‘What has happened repeatedly turns into a ritual. What has not happened turns into the mystery.’

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