Magazine article The Spectator

Barking in the Rain

Magazine article The Spectator

Barking in the Rain

Article excerpt


by Aidan Higgins Secker, 15.99, pp. 286

After recovery from initial bewilderment, one may argue in defence of Dog Days, the second volume of Aidan Higgins's projected tripartite autobiography, that its structure and style resemble memory itself, an amorphous gestalt, random, chaotic and beyond any sort of moral system. It is true that the straightforward, progressive, linear chronology of orthodox autobiography imposes an order that is artificial.

The disorderly Higgins method, or nonmethod, may truly represent his inward view of himself in the past and present, but it is not a view easy for even the most sympathetic reader to comprehend, let alone admire. However, then arises the question whether autobiography's proper function is to please the reader or therapeutically to relieve the writer of a lot of psychic garbage. Having squeezed out this sequel to Donkey's Years, Higgins may feel less uncomfortable about the traumas of his middle age.

He is a misanthrope of great caustic eloquence. He writes concretely, picturesquely and with peevish wit, very well indeed, especially about familial disharmony (he calls his elder brother, nicknamed Dodo, `the turdy old bollicks'), sexual frustration (`my longing for the bitch was so intense, and never to be gratified, that my teeth ached') and dogs barking in the rain (passim). There are countless bad-tempered dogs in this book, and the weather is almost always bad. He is able to rely only on Spain for sunshine. He portrays Ireland, his native land, at its gloomiest, made only just bearable by Guinness, Jameson whiskey and the rare literary grant. Like the great Dean Swift, Higgins is a sensitively observant connoisseur of excrement. 'The smaller the island,' he observes, 'the bigger the neurosis.'

A stranger in a pub asked Higgins the one question to which there is no satisfactory answer: `What do you do?' He replied:

'I write books actually.' 'What classa books?' 'Books that don't sell.'

There has been prestige. His first novel, Langrishe, Go Down, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Irish Academy of Letters Award. His second novel, Balcony of Europe, was short-listed for the Booker. …

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