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Posts Tagged ‘Time Present and Time Past’

Longtime bookconscious readers know I used to take the Europa Challenge. I have so many books to read and other things going on in my life that I stopped doing it but I am still a big fan or Europa Editions, who bring some of the best European writers to American readers.

Time Present and Time Past, by Deirdre Madden, is a quiet, reflective book about a middle aged man, Fintan, whose prevailing quality is a “combination of high intelligence and an innocence so incorrigible that it can sometimes look like stupidity.” He is married to a very kind woman who even his tough old mother loves, and he has a warm relationship with his nearly grown sons and young daughter, as well as his sister, Martina, and beloved aunt, Beth.

Sounds boring, doesn’t it? But Madden explores Fintan’s inner life, and that of the other characters, in such a way that by the time you’ve turned to the last page you feel as if you’ve discovered what makes us human. Essentially, that is the topic of this novel: the human experience. From remembrances of childhood to reflections on old age, Madden explores what living feels like, and she does it without much of a plot or even much drama*, instead sticking with simple, familiar domestic scenes that are part of her readers’ shared experience — family meals, commuting to work, sitting in a cafe, speaking with a coworker, taking a child and her friend on an outing.

It’s Madden’s exquisite writing that makes this work. Riding with Martina to visit a cousin, Fintan begins to remember where he is: “. . . already something is beginning to wake in Fintan’s memory. He does not recognise any given house, field, or hill but he generality of them speak to him. They are all familiar in a visceral way, and he knows deep down that he has been here, or hereabouts, before now.” I’ve heard Paul Harding describe good prose as something which you always knew, and never heard anyone else put into words quite the same way before. That’s what’s beautiful about Time Present and Time Past.

* there is a very important and well-done subplot about a trauma Martina experienced that changed the course of her life that deserves special mention.

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