The last people I wanted to see as I stood on the corner of Vernon Avenue and Kincora Road were my three beloved nonagenarian aunts. Two reasons. I didn’t want them getting word of my new novel, Sloot. They feature, thinly disguised, as the anti-hero’s three beloved nonagenarian aunts. The thinly disguised bit? They’re his three aunts, not mine. Their espousal of existentialism in the late forties and alleged sexual liaisons with several iconic figures through the ages are both dealt with, empathetically I hope, but not for those of a sensitive nature. They also supply the subject matter of Sloot’s 19th footnote, Height is a Feminist Issue.
The second reason? My comedy guru, Prof Emeritus Larry Sterne of CDU, cycles through Clontarf, past that very spot, on a daily basis. His magisterial Learned Disquisition on the Theory and Practice of Comedy is my bible. The plan was to flag him down and flatter him into writing a review of the book for the Irish Times. Preferably with no interruptions. I was keeping an eye out for the learned professor, lost in thoughts of film rights and the like, when
‘Back in Dubling, we see, to what end dough we know not.’
That was all three of them. I braced myself. I knew what they were like. They sucked you into their off-kilter orbit and that was that. No more outside world. I resisted the initial suck and concentrated on the road, in the hope of seeing Sterne cycling manically towards me. Which didn’t stop the three aunts in full flow.
‘Perhaps you’re brushing up on your accent, Een?’
‘Nort Dubling Petty Bourgeois as we recall.’
‘Because you haven’t actually said anyting yet.’
‘Or perhaps you returned from foreign climes to visit your doddery old aunties in their dotage?’
They moved closer.
‘Or perhaps you’re holding someting back, Een.’
‘Perhaps you have an ulterior motive for your visit.’
‘Which may or may not have to do wit your much-lauded career in the creative arts.’
This set them off, for some reason, into a fit of giggles. I ignored the warning signs and glanced along the road. Still no Sterne. I really didn’t want to miss him. His brief introduction to the comedic arts – Mirth: A User’s Guide – posits five levels of comedy. I’m referenced, on more than one occasion, at Level Five, and would naturally be deeply, deeply humbled if he could see his way to et cetera. I was composing his glowing review in my head as the three aunts’ giggles died away.
‘But you’re only as good as your next project, Een.’
‘Which in your case is the post-postmodern crime anti-triller, Sloot.’
What!? How did they know? I hadn’t been anywhere near them. They must have sensed my unease.
‘Ah, will you look at his little face. All puckered up wit conflicting toughts and emoticons.’
‘Relax, Een. We got an advance copy from that nice young publisher of yours, Mr. Bluemoose –’
‘- sounds Canadian to us; possibly from the cold bit -’
‘- and we’re bound to say it’s pleasingly readable.’
‘Your main character, Hayding, for instance. He has tree aunts d’un certing age and we were wondering – weren’t we, ladies? – how you tought them up?’
‘Were they based, for example, on people you know in real life or did you pluck them ready-made from the wilder shores of your fervid imaginayshing?’
‘I based them,’ I lied, ‘on the three witches in Macbeth.’
‘Oh very droll, Een. You’ll be writing comedy next.’
‘Only joshing. Your prose style, to our way of tinking, is not unreminiscent of the venerated masters of mirt.’
They peered up at me in frightening unison.
‘In fact, whisper it softly, but if Sid Perelman and Jimmy Turber had a love child wit a Dubling accent, Een, you’d be it.’
‘And we know what you’re tinking. That’s highly unlikely, ladies, being as what they’re bote gentlemen of the male persuasion, duss making childbert a bit of a biological long shot.’
‘Added to which, they’re bote also dead.’
True as far as it went, but quite a compliment nonetheless. Perelman? Thurber? Me? I may have puffed myself up slightly and lost track of why I was there as the three aunts developed their thesis.
‘Besides, they were also bote certifiably heterosexual if their behaviour at the Algonquin Hotel was anyting to go by.’
‘Sexual atletes of Olympian supereminence, Een. We should know.’
‘Bit hush hush at the moment, dough. We’re keeping it for the memoirs.’
I must admit I found this both fascinating and disturbing. On the one hand, it’s not often you get references to legends of mid-20th-century comic prose in casual conversation. On the other, I’d already grassed them up, in Sloot, on a veritable index-full of alleged affairs. Household names the lot of them.
And the three aunts, apparently, had got hold of the damn thing. I was wondering how to break the news gently when they pointed down Kincora Road towards Castle Avenue.
‘There goes the celebrated Professor Emeritus Larry, Een, as featured in your –’
I didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. They’d done it again. I’d totally lost track of time, the real world, and my reason for standing there, as Prof Emeritus Sterne disappeared from view towards the Howth Road. He’d cycled past. I’d missed him. Bang went my Level Five review, and I had only myself to blame. I zoned back in to the three aunts as they huddled over their collective handbags and produced, after much searching through sweetie wrappers, used paper hankies and a contraceptive device from ‘our Parisian sojourn in the fifties’, a well-thumbed copy of Sloot.
‘Well, best be off so.’
‘We have to finish your bewke, Een.’
'We've been asked to write a review for The Irish Times.'
Sloot by Ian MacPherson is published by Bluemoose Books, at £8.99