A novel that follows life on the margins of London

a blow
by Keith Ridgeway

In Irish author Keith Ridgway’s audaciously offbeat novel “Hawthorne and Child”, two detectives pinball around north-east London and try to impose order on coincidence and coincidence. In many ways, this is the quintessential London novel, filled with an eclectic cast of characters whose lives intersect and overlap. But in Hawthorne and Child’s ultimately futile pursuit of a plot—their inability to find the story that unifies the different threads of their investigation—Ridway pulls the rug out from under the reader.

Now, traveling the streets of Elephant and Castle, Camberwell and Peckham south of the Thames, Ridgeway’s new novel, “A Shock,” is an even more simply slippery book. From a widow who suffers from “a sense of loneliness, worthlessness”, to a woman living a “wrong way”, to another who tries to hide the emptiness of her existence behind elaborate lies, accidental, drug abuse. Behind closed doors for men indulging in hookups full of, Ridgeway writes about various marginalized people, their lives interlocking in the most wonderful of ways. What initially appears to be a collection of loosely connected short stories describes itself as a specially built house of mirrors.

Certain characters and locations – the local pub, the Arms, or a house party described in two separate chapters, from different perspectives – serve as common points of reference, but many of the stories differ, Reappear as slightly skewed versions. themselves, almost as if they were relayed through a game of telephone. In one chapter, pub regulars regale each other with local urban legends. There was a writer, someone says, who once moved into the Maynards’ home Chelsea apartment, “couples from the newspapers” who famously disappeared one day: “Vanished. No trace.” Or that “unhappy woman.” ” What about the one that got stuck inside the cavity space in the wall of her flat? ” It actually happened near here,” confirms Raconteur. She remained trapped until her husband came home from work And he heard shouting for help.

There is something familiar about these stories. In the novel’s opening chapter, an elderly woman hollows out a crawl space in the wall of her crumbling kitchen—though she lives in a house, not an apartment, and her partner is dead. Later in the novel, a young man named David moves into a new flat and discovers that the previous occupants – a gay couple, not husband and wife – have disappeared. However, there wasn’t much mystery about it, the landlady explains. They were behind in their rent.

Reading “A Shock” feels a bit like being a regular at Arms, with your attention momentarily drawn by a snippet of someone else’s conversation as a voice flows across the bar, a name or a turn of phrase that is halfway through. The incomplete ones are memorized, so that you strain to tune in to hear the rest. It’s the kind of novel that rewards multiple readings, new echoes and connections each time it reveals itself. And, the way one character describes the troubling, near-hallucinatory side effects of taking certain drugs—”it’s just peripheral, corner of the eyes stuff, movements”—you get a sense of myriad other lives around the people mentioned here. is. , all technically out of sight. One character thinks, “There were so many people doing things quietly that they thought were opportunities,” but those were only chances because they thought they were.

After publishing “Hawthorn and Child”, Ridgeway claimed that he had given up writing fiction. Thank god he changed his mind.

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