Afather and his estranged 20-year-old daughter set off across France, sharing the driver’s cabin of a long-haul truck. This is a road trip like no other: Paddy, deracinated, footloose, divorced, taking on a temporary job for reasons that become clear later; and daughter Kitty, spiky, provocative, shaved head, grubby jeans and sweater, wrapped in an old mink coat she’s pinched from her grandmother. Occasionally she rewards her father with an ambiguous affectionate response as their edgy banter veers in and out of dangerous territory: the minefield of parenthood.
The narrative is fractured; nothing told chronologically, the surface deliberately throw-away — skewed punctuation, sentences left hanging. Conor O’Callaghan is a prize-winning poet, whose second novel, We Are Not in the World, could be read like a poem, making sense cumulatively, the full picture only gradually emerging.
A poet first, O’Callaghan has spoken of the burden of inheritance of the Yeatsian singing line. Nonetheless, his prose can’t help but sing beautifully. It is arresting to see haulage described in poetic terms: “There’s that moment when the cab, after its rest in a stationary position, reconnects with its load. Like memory and forgetting. There are a couple of millimetres of slack, when the truck’s cab is moving and the truck’s load isn’t, before it’s forced to remember the weight it’s here to tow.” Such lyricism makes it all the more jarring when the other-worldly ambience is disrupted by text messages contained in bubbles on the page, a device I found distracting.