Wild Gestures by Lucy Durneen

wild-gestures-659x1024I launched Lucy Durneen’s Wild Gestures on 11 January at Buck Mulligan’s Irish whiskey bar-bookshop. This was my speech.


Lucy Durneen’s Wild Gestures is a stunning collection of stories, so full of insight on the unconquerable spaces between people, the missed or never possible opportunities, the mistakes that couldn’t be otherwise, the yearning for things we can’t or shouldn’t have, and bearing the weight of it all – of the reaching and yearning and trying to hold and knowing we can’t.

But in this collection Lucy also captures those beautiful blissful rare moments of sublimity, and also submission to the moment.

The tones, settings, points of view and tenses are varied, but one commonality across the stories is the way they withhold – the way they switch you on, and then slowly reveal, but never too much. At the end of each there is still a sense of the mysterious, but it becomes a shared mystery between the characters and the reader. A shared puzzling of the subject of that particular story. The stories are psychological experiences, not mere narratives.

For example, in ‘The Path of Least Resistance’, the narrator arrives back from the shop with lunch and upon entering, feels like a stranger. Jim, who we assume to be her partner, is selling a chair to a younger woman. We pause on the image of the woman, and it is psychologically unsettling and painful, through the narrator’s eyes, especially since she has already established that she feels misplaced in a place she shouldn’t. She notes, ‘You could tell that she didn’t have anything pressing down on her from inside, nothing that showed on her face when she thought no-one was looking, the way a child thinks it’s invisible when it closes its eyes.’ Through one long paragraph we glean that the narrator both admires and is threatened by the young woman. They are introduced, then there is some tension between the narrator and her partner about feeding a dog, and the young woman is caught up in it. The way the couple speak to each other indicates more tension in their history. And then the focus is on the chair that is being sold, and through the chair the reader receives more insight, quick and subtle, into the history of the couple, and where blame may fall, and into the heartbreak and disappointment of the narrator. The last line shows us just how much had been hoped for. And this is such a short story – one of the shorter ones – but it’s a good example of how there’s a puzzle, an unfurling, and then a more complex and beautiful puzzling to which the reader is invited to join in on.

Another commonality between the stories is an urgency, and energy, in the writing. As though each character is pushing at something, or grasping or gathering, and then, in moments, there is a glimmer of what they are seeking, or perhaps something different and surprising. And this kind of rhythm, which I imagine comes from some similar sense of urgency in the writing, results in some spectacularly insightful, poetic lines and passages, of which I’ll just share a few, because the main joy is in discovering them yourself via this process.

In ‘Everything beautiful is far away’ a woman simply tries to comprehend her husband’s illness and stay in hospital. After an exchange with him about memories she realises that she had brought up an experience that was with a former lover, not him, and this is what she feels: ‘The guilt rushes through me like my heart is a barrage, just trembling to let go. But I hold it back. I feel it, everything, all of it, like a giant lake, like the Nile behind my heart, dammed, and if anything, I am too alive.’  Powerful.

In that same story, the water metaphor carries through, and there is this incredible description of something I’d normally say is indescribable – an overwhelming feeling of nostalgic longing. She thinks of the past lover and then this:

There are times when it seems more than I can do to remember how to breathe and suddenly everything I have ever known is gusting back to me, dredged through the stink of tanker oil from an old place at the bottom off my heart. Suddenly it feels as if the seventy-eight per cent of my body that is water is trying to get back to the sea. Sehnsucht, the Germans call this. An intense yearning for a thing far-off, a thing that no word in the English language can define.

This character has so many moments of realisation, which the reader is invited to share in, and there is that urgent build, and the satisfaction of the final puzzling, but there is also in this, as in many of the stories, a gentle sense of humour. At one point, she say, ‘I am out of metaphors. The sea is just the sea.’ So the stories are large – they look deeply inward and outward to great distances – but they are also humble.

I’ll just share one more of my favourite lines, though it is hard to choose, but this one seems related to much of the shared and continued puzzling of existence so well-articulated by Lucy throughout the collection. In ‘And what if it isn’t?’ a woman, a professor, falls in love with the wrong man. It surprises her. She had thought she was a ‘wasteland in a woman’s body’. She notes: ‘It seems bizarre that natural selection has not stopped humanity loving this way, fatally, inconveniently, but this is how it goes.’

And aren’t we lucky we have such talented writers who can capture and articulate this great puzzling for us.

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