This is my symphony

What I read & what I lived …

The Misremembered Man
Christina McKenna

There is nothing not to like about Christina McKenna’s The Misremembered Man. It is a love story in every sense of the word … just maybe not the one you were expecting.

Jamie McCloone is a lost soul. An orphan for ten years in one of Ireland’s horrendous Magdalene laundries, he suffered abuse in every form. (McKenna handles the sexual abuse in a guarded way.) But when Jamie is ten, “Uncle” Mick and “Aunt” Alice arrive and carry him away to the world he had always seen in his dreams: the cottage, the farmyard, even the black dog Shep. For the first time in his life, Jamie knew warmth and love, clean sheets and a full belly. But as he creeps into his forties, Jamie is alone again, Mick and Alice both dead. There’s a black hole in his heart and he struggles (with the help of Valium and copious amounts of stout) to find a way to carry on.

Lydia Devine’s life was never as bleak, but all the same, she bore the scars of her harsh Protestant upbringing, where even music was frowned upon, where she felt too many times like an outsider. In her forties she still lived at home, caring for her demanding, never-satisfied-with-anything elderly mother. Lydia wanted to live a little–but simply didn’t know how.

Alone, at loose ends, and desperately yearning for something more, both are convinced by dear friends to run an ad in the Lonely Hearts section of the Mid-Ulster Vindicator. And after a few letters back and forth, they meet. Awkward at first, they settle into comfortable and companionable conversation which is interrupted abruptly by a hilarious scene with Jamie and his wayward new toupee in the Men’s.  Jamie’s friends Rose and Paddy watch the two from a distance (Jamie doesn’t drive and relies on their kindness to motor him distances farther than he can ride his bike) and Rose remarks, “God, they make a lovely couple, don’t they? … Y’know it’s as if they were made for one another, because the pair a them have the same noses on them. D’you see that Paddy?” I missed that one. Totally.

McKenna captured the gruff, rough edges of an Irish farmer just as flawlessly as she did the pinched, straight-laced spinster. The dialog was pitch-perfect, and even the minor characters were engaging. And the writer in me simply loved the author’s lists, which spoke volumes. Here’s the first one that describes Rose McFadden’s home:

Every chair and window and surface … expressed Rose’s devotion to creative crafts and a liking for thrift-store tat … Antimacassars and runners: laced, crocheted, appliquéd, embroidered, tatted, and frilled …  A papier-mâché rooster made over six Friday nights … whilst Paddy competed in the Duntybutt Championship Darts Tournament in Murphy’s pub. Items with shells and ideas from Portaluce beach: a wine-bottle lamp with a fringed shade; a postcard plate of a whale; a card table trimmed with cockles and scallops; a collage of a fish with milk-bottle-top gills, a Fanta cap eye and a seagull’s primary wing feather, stiffened with glue for a tail. 

After that beauty, I was always on alert, waiting for those lists and I was never disappointed. In fact, there is nothing disappointing at all in The Misremembered Man. 

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