It’s rare I want to read a book again before I have even finished it, but that’s the feeling I had when I was reading Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. Set on All Souls’ Day, a day when the dead are said to return, Solar Bones is Marcus Conway’s elegy to himself. It’s his recollection of the events that took him away and then brought him back to his family’s home in Mayo. It’s a story of a series of ordinary events that come together as something extraordinary when viewed together with their ripples and their lyricism.
Solar Bones is one novel length sentence, broken up by line breaks and other bits of punctuation, like a very long prose poem. Its single sentence runs like a thread looping out to touch relationships, politics, philosophy, religion Ireland, Europe, the world, the solar system, the universe, but always coming back to a family home in Mayo. I love the sheer distance this novel covers in a series of infinte links that is just so clever in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s showing off at all.
McCormack’s choice to write in a single sentence has led to him being compared with the likes of, other great Irish writers, Joyce and Beckett. I can’t deny that it feels like McCormack has taken up something of the great Irish modernist mantle. However, I don’t want comparisons to some of the most difficult writers in the canon to put a large swathe of this novel’s potential audience off, because it is infinitely readable.
While Solar Bones certainly isn’t a thriller, it is a completely compelling read. Once you start reading you’ll find it hard to put down, in part because of its structure and in part because of its engrossing subject matter.
The only problem I had with this novel is that its single sentence structure made it hard to pick up and put down, there are no natural breaks. But that’s more of a complaint about not being able to sit down 6 hours in order to devour it in one go. Perhaps, I’ll try and do that on my inevitable second reading.
If you hadn’t guessed already, Solar Bones comes highly recommended by me. It also highly recommended by some people with a lot more literary know-how, as it won the Goldsmith’s prize last year.
SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ
- How did the single sentence structure of the novel affect your reading experience? Did you change how you read practically? Did you notice the lack of punctuation as you read, if so why?
- McCormack’s choice to write in a single sentence has been seen as distinctively Irish. How would a similar novel written in England, or America have differed? How did you feel the novel’s Irishness coming through?
- Solar Bones is a quiet novel of a man’s life, how did that, seemingly unexciting, subject matter grip you as you read?
- Marcus is an Engineer; how does his profession reflect in his prose?
- As well as a novel about a man and his family, Solar Bones is concerned with religion and politics, how did you feel they were sewn into the novel? Did you enjoy those interludes?
IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…
- The Culture Trip’s analysis of why Solar Bones won the Goldsmith’s prize
- A lovely review of the novel from Ian Sansom in the Guardian
- Stephanie Boland on Solar Bones and Irish modernism, and its potential resurrection, for The New Statesman
- An interview with Mick McCormack in the Irish Times which focuses on Solar Bones but reaches out more widely to cover some of his other thoughts on writing
IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…
- James Joyce’s Ulysses
- Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood
- Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
- Ian McEwan’s Saturday
- John William’s Stoner
Why not use the Solar Bones bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.
As ever, let me know if you’ve read Solar Bones, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.