Posted on 19th October 2010

By John Self, Blogger

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Fiction Uncovered by… John Self, blogger

Keith Ridgway is a writer who, despite being feted by critics (as well as Irish and French literary prize juries), remains stubbornly little-known. He is funny, technically brilliant and has all the qualities that should by rights whisk him to the front of the Booker Prize shortlist. Like many Irish writers, his early work seemed to channel John McGahern and kicked off with descriptions of the weather – and they were good descriptions! – but his ambition has brought him much further in recent years. As well as prize-winning short stories and a novella, he has written three novels, all wildly different. The Long Falling (1998) was described by one reviewer as ‘the Irish Crime and Punishment’, while The Parts (2003) was ‘a modern-day Ulysses’. His most recent published novel, Animals (2006), was rich and strange, and fully deserved those too-easy comparisons to Kafka and Beckett. Yet despite the boldness of his subjects and forms, his work is always human, accessible and addictive. His novel-in-progress can, I’m told, be read either as a unified whole or as individual short stories; I can’t wait.

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Jonathan Gibbs

13th November 2010 at 15:43

Well I bought ‘Animals’ on the basis of this recommendation and I have to say it absolutely lived up to the billing. It’s a variously darkly amusing and disturbing slice under the skin of contemporary urban living. The best sections show the narrator, sometimes over page after page, stripping away layer after layer of his thinking to try to work out what’s going on both inside his own head and outside it, in a world that is turning increasingly sinister.

It’s a trick that many of my favourite writers do at times, some more comically, some more tragically – Geoff Dyer, Thomas Bernhard, David Foster Wallace: the problem with thinking is that once you’ve had a thought, there is a temptation to follow it through to its logical conclusion, which might be a place you really don’t want to be.

The quote on the front cover compares to the novel to ‘walking across a room full of trapdoors’ and that’s a fair description: there were points during it when I felt like it was about to fall into a recognisable pattern – murder mystery, paranoid nightmare, ‘Fight Club’-style nihilistic satire. Each time I thought I knew what was going to happen next my heart started to sink. Each time I was proved wrong.

The book it made me think of most of all was Sartre’s ‘Nausea’, which is something I haven’t read – or even thought about – in years. Does anybody read Sartre anymore? In any case, the idea that Ridgway’s novels are all different is an inspiring one: the voice he finds here of sophisticated, self-conscious disaffection seems so pure I could easily imagine him writing book after book like this. I’m moving onto his story collection, ‘Standard Time’ next.

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