The Truth About Love By Josephine Hart VIRAGO Pounds 12.99 (248pp) Pounds 11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
The Authors surname is propitious. Her subject is the heart; its secret rules and reasons. Damage, her devastating first novel, starts with a whole, relatively stable man and shows him torn apart by romantic obsession. The Truth About Love, her sixth, tells the inverse story: how the heart heals.
The first chapter is disorientating, a gabbling stream of consciousness. Gradually we realise we are in the mind of a mortally wounded child. Oh Mama, I feel all cold and wet He has been injured by a blast from his chemistry set; quite how a young lad might have come by such unsafe materials is never fully explained, but dark hints about the IRA rebound through the book.
After his excruciating death his family and neighbours take over the narrative, passing on the baton of his memory. The story isnt what compels you: its the writing. Harts dialogue is extraordinary, blending poetry and naturalism like the great Irish playwrights. Coffee? No, but thank you. Were not great coffee drinkers. We dont want stimulants, you see. We want oblivion.
You dont read this book so much as hear it in your head. Indeed, you wonder if it began life as a radio play. The modern Irish greats Brien Friel, Sean OCasey come to mind. Then Hart distances herself, interpolating dry little comments about the Irish from a strangers perspective: They all talk like this. Its their gift, their …