PHOTO BY THOMAS LANGDON
Page Turner/ Edited by Peter McDermott
Ireland’s newest literary stars have warmly welcomed Sara Baume to their ranks, but some of the old hands, it seems, are just as enthusiastic about “Spill Simmer Falter Wither,” her first novel.
Joseph O’Connor, in the latter category, said: “This book is a stunning and wonderful achievement by a writer touched by greatness.”
Describing the novel a “tour de force” in the Irish Times, O’Connor suggested that no writer “since J.M. Coetzee or Cormac McCarthy has written about an animal with such intensity.”
Another long-established novelist, the 2007 winner of the Man Booker Prize Anne Enright, added her words of praise. “This book is like a flame in daylight: beautiful and unexpected,” she said.
Writers published recently for the first time could only agree. Eimear McBride found it “unbearably poignant and beautifully told,” while another, Mary Costello, said, “I had an image of all language standing to attention, eager to serve this writer.”
In similar terms, Colin Barrett noted the novel’s “relentlessly inventive language that, it seems, can maneuver anywhere and describe anything.”
Baume, Barrett’s immediate successor as winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, was born in England to an Irish mother and a father from Yorkshire, but the family relocated just months after her birth.
“I was raised in rural Ireland and have always chosen to hold an Irish passport,” she said.
Baume added by way of introduction: “My debut novel is named for the seasons – Spill for spring, Simmer for summer, Falter for autumn, Wither for winter – and takes place over the course of a year. The narrator is a man in his late 50s who has lived a terribly isolated life in a tiny seaside village. The story begins when he adopts a one-eyed rescue dog. Gradually, the dog transforms his days and perspectives.”
Date of birth: May 5, 1984
Place of birth: Wigan, Greater Manchester, UK
Residence: West Cork. I live with my boyfriend – he’s an artist.
Published works: “Spill Simmer Falter Wither”
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
All day every day is arranged around writing. I live in an old farmhouse in the countryside by the sea. We only recently moved here, and it means so much to me to have a room of my own with a desk and noticeboards and books shelves. I try to remain here for the morning, either plodding away on my laptop or writing lists on multicolored post-its or pinning artifacts to my boards. I break the day with food, coffee, dog-walks. In the evenings, I allow myself to move downstairs, where there is a stove and a rocking chair, where much more reading than writing is achieved.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Just find a way to be content with your writing, whether it succeeds or not.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“A Meal in Winter” by Hubert Mingarelli, “The Ikonmaker” by Desmond Hogan, “The Faster I Walk The Smaller I Am” by Kjersti A. Skomsvold.
What book are you currently reading?
“The Land of Spices” by Kate O’Brien, as homework for my participation in a literary festival in Limerick at the end of this month. O’Brien (1897-1974) was a wonderful and somewhat underappreciated Irish writer. This novel was banned in Ireland on its publication in 1941, almost solely due to its inclusion of the phrase: “in the embrace of love.”
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
I would love to meet W.G. Sebald, though I’ve no idea what I’d say to him without sounding like an eejit! But maybe I wouldn’t need to say anything - I feel like he would certainly have appreciated the craggy scenery of the west coast of Ireland. Maybe I could just bring him on a cliff walk with me and the dogs…
What book changed your life?
“Art Since 1960” by Michael Archer. My mother gave it to me when I was a teenager. It utterly transformed my understanding of painting and sculpture, and set me on a course to art school. Later on, “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy transformed my understanding of literature, showing me how it is also possible for novels to make unconventional shapes.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Is it allowed to be somewhere I’ve never actually been?! I have always been fascinated by lighthouses – who isn’t? And perhaps the world’s most fascinating lighthouse is Fastnet Rock off the coast of West Cork, where I live now. I can see it blinking in the far, far distance – it’s utterly bewitching. The name in Irish means “lonely rock” and it is widely known as “Ireland's Teardrop” because it is the nation's most southerly point - the last bit which 19th-century emigrants saw on their crossing to America.
Sara Baume will read next Tuesday evening, March 8, at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan as part of the Debut Voices series. For more information, go to www.irishartscenter.org.