The narrator sometimes has problems speaking at all, and a fair deal of the novel is taken up with the question of what it means to be understood in a city where personal identity is inextricably politicised. The notion of home itself, in a city people are either emigrating from or returning to, is also complicated.
But it’s also a pretty convoluted novel that gets too bogged down in the narrator’s introspective musings on words and meaning. There’s an irony there.
"One Booker shortlist later, Galley Beggar were proved correct. Ellmann’s novel isn’t perfect, and it may not take the prize, but in a world where Ian McEwan is still at large, something introspective and richly painted is a tonic for us all...."
— The Daily Telegraph
4.25 out of 5
Best known for his acclaimed memoir The Speckled People, Hamilton writes books that are rooted in the strangeness of his German-Irish childhood and feeling as alien and out of place as the palm trees in Dublin...
Almost nothing happens for long stretches in this quietly magnificent book, or happens offstage in anecdotes and digressions, but the author’s hypnotically matter-of-fact voice is intensely, unputdownably readable.
This is a quietly powerful book, although some of its wisdom crosses the line from elegiac to gnomic. It is hard to know, for example, quite what to make of a pronouncement like “Silence is not emptiness. It’s not the absence of matter. It is a solid state, full of love and language and things collected from childhood.” Occasional single-sentence paragraphs feel somewhat forced in their aphoristic minimalism: “The world is full of things that have not happened.”; “Nothing cuts like a lost friendship.”; “Writing is no place to hide.” And it is perhaps a shame that, although the novel’s interest in language would seem to offer scope for formal play, the multilingual psychic landscape of the narrator’s youth (“I grew up in a language nightmare”) is rendered in a relatively conservative manner, mostly in the form of abstract reminiscences in fairly standard colloquial English.