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Book Review

Book Cover



Author: Dawn Murray
Publisher: CultMachine
647 pages
RRP: £12.99
ISBN: 978 168734 108 2
Publication Date: 19 August 2019

Why is a novel about life in the quaint sequestered Irish town of Dunworryin in the 1960s being reviewed on this venue? This realm of monsters, ethereal flights, ghouls, ghosts and gremlins. Dawn Murray juxtaposes the remembered past of small-town Ireland with an ever-present darkness in the wings, an omnivorous abyss of history (the real monster) ready to swallow and consume life taken for granted, to be concussed by the reality of headlines reporting the number one whack job of the twentieth century.

The Himself of the title is President John F. Kennedy who, residents of Dunworryin are told, will make a detour on his June 1963 visit to the homeland of his family – (where he would ride everywhere in an open limo) and visit them. From anonymity to world fame in one heartbeat, the folks of Dunworryin find themselves universally in orbit around the advent of ‘our Jack’. Each of them fantasizing how they can latch onto the charisma, the fame, the Eros, the love that is the Kennedy mystique. Is there altruism here? Not in a pig’s arse. All are motivated by the power JFK’s proximity can chain react into their heretofore ordinary relatively mundane lives.

The promulgator of this small-town frenzy to touch big time luminosity is the town’s mayor, Joe O’Donnell, a conniver, a bit of a fiddler, but at his heart a man who feels chronically under appreciated by family and neighbours for his intrinsic goodness. And Joe is a good man, a gadfly organiser, who brings the town together for the visit, earning a grudging respect he’s never tasted before. He leads a cohort of characters young and old, virtuous and not so, holier than thou and wholly duplicitous, simple and complicated, uniting them all to fantasize how this one man can illuminate their lives. But the multi-spine beast of reality already lurks here before November 22nd which we know too well is slouching on its way toward us.

The seams in personalities and relationships are tearing and being re-stitched. There is no going back from the self-disclosure of desire. All through the abundant humour, and Murray never shorts us on that in her recipe, we know without dwelling on what is to come in Dallas, something isn’t right here. These people not only are approaching the abyss of history but the starless black hole of self without facade.

Murray gives us clues all along the way. Why is Joe so secretive with his official letter? How can his mother-in-law become a newfound ally? (Talk about stereotypes on their ear.) What draws Joe to contemplate the night sky which he believes is totally empty of meaning for him? Joe is the other ‘himself’ of this story.

Murray is a sneaky seductress, spinning a web the reader assumes to be self-evident only to find too late they’ve been wrapped in a personal cocoon of identification and realization. She is stealthy with the heart chakra and her kindness is misinterpreted as superficial to the heart’s expense. The ending of Himself is light years from its raucous first page. And we know that at the speed of light, to be or not to be does its inexorable transformation in the folds of space and time. Nobody gets off this train in the same mindset they boarded.

In the book’s blurb homage is paid to Maeve Binchy. This is a horrible mistake. That dowager empress of tepid tea with milk gone a little flat could not have and would not have written such a story if dryads delivered it to her in a sack of Depends. Murray is charting her own course, navigating by Pythagoras and Ra, a ship for all weather. Does John F. Kennedy make it to Dunworryin after all? Dear, dear reader. How callow of you to ask. This is Ireland.


John Huff

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