Making Way, by Theo Dorgan
We do get there in the end. And the crisis, in the form of revelations by both characters, is worth waiting for. Tom’s secret is surprising, low key, and convincing, Clare’s more dramatic and contrived. Like all good revelations, they have been foreshadowed from the start, but subtly, so you miss the clues at the time but recognise them in hindsight. This is controlled storytelling – writing a novel is like sailing a boat, requiring a mixture of craft and intuition, and on the evidence of his handling of the climax, Theo Dorgan has both.
The writing is lyrical. Physical aspects of the voyage are described in rich detail. The language of sailing – jennies and mainsails and winches and staysails, lee cloth and port cloth and gusting 25 – is perhaps overused, although understandably so. But excess of love for words is not the worst fault a writer can have, and delight in language is a hallmark of this novel. There is no pared-back masculinist prose here, but unabashedly flamboyant sentences. Dorgan is not afraid of adverbs and adjectives. The flowing style of the opening chapters replicates the rhythm of waves: “The evening plumped itself over Ortiga, a soft dusk settling on the bay outside, a more velvety dark coming to roost in the spaces between the tall trees, between the trees and the high stone wall behind them.”
The novel deals with big questions, about love, death and the point of living. It is also to a great extent a man’s exploration of women. “Tom liked women, women like Tom.” The story closes at Deya, on Majorca, death place of Robert Graves. Ruth and Clare may in some way suggest white goddess figures, some sort of female force? Nevertheless, Tom is a more interesting character than Clare. It’s Tom’s novel – in the end, a story of the old man and the sea, not the owl and the pussycat.
Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s latest book is The Shelter of Neighbours. She teaches creative writing at the school of English, drama and film in University College Dublin.