Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Review


Sara Baume  China.png

Tramp Press (216 pages), 2015

Book Launch, €12

I attended the launch of Spill Simmer Falter Wither in Dublin’s Voodoo Lounge a while ago.  Anne Enright launched the novel with her usual mix of wit, wisdom, and warmth.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a wonderful novel.  Although it is a debut novel it has a maturity that is rare in a first novel.  Unlike the recently reviewed The Guest Cat Baume creates a much stronger bond between the dog, One Eye, and the man who finds him (or who is found by the dog).  I care what happens to both characters and can empathise with their plight. The novel has a great opening scene as the dog tears furiously across the Irish countryside, one eye hanging loose, his pain and pace taking place on the timeless but ever changing stage of the Irish landscape.

The man lives alone his life has been confined by circumstance and fear.  His father was harsh and cold. He has spent most of his life behind closed doors. One Eye brings the man outside of himself, at last he has someone he can care about.  There is alo a realisation that there is another way to live, “How can you be so unremittingly interested?  How can every stone be worthy of tenderly sniffing, every clump of grass a source of fascination?  How can this blade possibly smell new and different from that blade, and why is it that some require to be pissed upon, and others simply don’t?  I wish I had been born with your capacity for wonder.  I wouldn’t mind living a shorter life if my short life could be as vivid as yours” (p.35).

It is One Eye’s uncontrollable emotions and the man’s inability to deal with them that results in man and dog going on the run from the dog catcher.  The is forced out into public in his car driving the back roads of Ireland.  He is running to save the one thing that he has grown to love.  Baume never romanticises the man’s problems.  The countryside is beautiful but unemotional, like the landscapes in a Cormac McCarthy novel.  The man and dog’s road trip is one shaped by desperation.  Living in a car is not easy.  They are two outsiders who struggle to understand the cruelty of the world.  Ireland has a history of treating its outsiders badly and Spill Simmer Falter Wither touches on this, “Now we’re approaching the village again.  See the bare branches of the cherry trees.  The houses with the people inside and the shops with goods inside and the church with all its chalky gods inside, and everything and everybody remaining inside because it’s Christmas, of course, and there’s nowhere to go.  See the bird walk, the information board, the noble fir in all its hollow frippery.  See the takeaway, the chip shop.  The pub, the other pub.  The grocers and the hairdressing salon, all shut.  See the community we were insidiously hounded from.  See how community is only a good thing when you’re a part of it” (p.209).

Related Links

Irish Times review.

Irish Examiner review.

The Independent (UK) review.

writing.ie review.


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