‘Editing Beautiful Pictures convinced me Mia Gallagher is one of the greatest living Irish writers’
‘This beauty of a novel felt new, and I felt lucky. Exactly the type of explosive, unafraid and intelligent book we live to publish’
Mia Gallagher: ferociously intelligent but unpretentious. Photograph: Sean Molloy
Mia Gallagher’s stunning, artful and triumphant novel, Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland, came to me in a roundabout kind of way. While I was working on a short story of hers for an anthology we published in 2015 – a really properly good story, I should mention, a perfectly and beautifully written moment in time – I saw in her bio note that it was adapted from a forthcoming novel. I had to email her about a comma in her story, or something, and mentioned that I was looking forward to seeing the new book if that story was anything to go by. She said I could see it now.
When she sent it in, I just about fell off my chair. Not because of the length (in publishing there’s this lazy received opinion that big books, or books that play with form in any way, are too risky, people will get scared off and not buy them. To that I say: pfffft. They contain multitudes, contain souls, have heartbeats and logic and will wrap you up cosy) but because of how instantly and totally intriguing, how poke-you-in-the-ribs different it is.
The nature of my job means I read a lot, for work and for fun, and so tend to see trends and themes and tropes pop up, sort of like how you’ll see the same few faces on the bus every morning. But this book, this beauty of a novel, felt new, and I felt lucky. Exactly the type of explosive, unafraid and intelligent book we at New Island live to publish. I couldn’t put it down.
Editing Beautiful Pictures convinced me that Mia Gallagher is one of the greatest living Irish writers. It’s tempting to call books like these “ambitious”, but I don’t think that quite gets it, because if you’re ambitious that implies you might still fail. Mia has achieved something here, and big time. Really good books create this recognisable sense of what it feels like to be alive in the world; the great ones do that, maybe better, but then they also show us what it means to be alive on those deeper, darker, more interesting levels – the ones we aren’t aware of, the ones we may even be afraid of. We love and fight, eat and sleep, do other stuff, and have good times and unimaginably, nearly unbearably tragic ones, but it’s OK, we’re OK, it’s going to be OK, there’s some meaning between us, and everyone’s going through it, same as you. And that’s why we read books and watch movies and look at art, I think.
How profoundly interconnected Beautiful Pictures is, and how intricately Mia weaves it all together – and how effortless it all seems – is a marvel. How three-dimensional her characters are – we see them and we feel them, and we understand on an intuitive level what it might feel like to be them – is remarkable, and some of them are even four-dimensional (hi, Lotte!). It seems like we know them in a real way. There are mysteries, things lurking in shadows (sometimes literally), elements of fantasy and horror and there are moments of soaring prose that are quite genuinely breathtaking.
All in all, Beautiful Pictures is – like its author – ferociously intelligent but unpretentious. It is playful and funny, and also serious and sometimes sad. As Claire Kilroy put it, “it is art” – it is avant-garde in parts and challenging and an absolute joy to read. Not only does it invite you in, it gives you a drink, a blanket, and a warm bed with clean sheets, gives you a hug, gives you breakfast and your own set of keys.
“Rewarding” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Dan Bolger is commissioning editor at New Island Books. Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland by Mia Gallagher, published by New Island Books, is February’s Irish Times Book Club choice. Mia will discuss her work with Laura Slattery of The Irish Times at the Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin 1 on Thursday, February 23rd at 7.30pm.