We Are Not in the World – Conor O’Callaghan
We Are Not in the World is a haunting, disturbing and highly original story of a father and daughter travelling across England and France in a haulage truck, and discovering more about their relationship and past in all its raw candour. A story that is deeply emotional and vividly brought to life through fragmented characters and unsettling backgrounds. A history where grief and loss are never too far. “Happiness comes and goes. It tends not to hang around. Unhappiness has a habit of outstaying its welcome.”
Paddy has found himself leasing a truck from a friend, Howard, although his supervisor, Carl, remains in control of the operational side of the haulage contracts and the meet points on the trip which Carl is also making. Paddy picks his estranged daughter, Kitty, up from a Dublin hospital and hides her in the cab as they cross on the ferries between Ireland, England and France. Kitty, emaciated, bruised and wearing a stolen mink coat remains hidden at cafes and anywhere Paddy may know someone. He certainly keeps her hidden from Carl and his prying. Paddy wants to build a relationship with his daughter and ensure, this time, that he gives everything he can and that it endures forever. There is no doubt they love each other, although their interactions are brutally honest and searching.
Paddy often tells Kitty the Irish folklore tale of Oisín and Tír na nÓg, where Oisín is a great Irish warrior who falls in love with Niamh (a princess of the mythical Tír na nÓg – ‘Land of Eternal Youth’). Niamh takes him to Tír na nÓg to live forever young but after a while, Oisín gets homesick and wants to see his family, friends and Ireland again. Niamh gives Oisín a magical horse that he must never dismount. Three hundred years have passed and everyone he knew is dead but as he travels the countryside he tries to help a group of men move rocks and slips off his horse and lands on the ground, only to age immediately by the three hundred years and soon die. This story is repeated and referenced several times, forging a link between the myth and Paddy’s adventure on several levels. Paddy wants to keep his daughter close to him as they travel this private journey together.
“This is it all right. This is the place Carl said to be. This is the correct hour and the correct day. It’s just that I am, I realize only now, a fortnight late. We have lived in the Land of Youth. We’ve lost all track of. Time? Time passes. Or rather, this is what passes for time. We are not in the world exactly. This is more the future we return to, its municipal spaces derelict or in some limbo of sublime incompletion. Nobody remembers us. There’s nobody to remember. All old comrades, the ancient order, have fallen from memory into myth. The saddle is sliding off. We’re sliding off with it and can’t stop time happening.”
Conor O’Callaghan creates a sense of foreboding that things are not going to end well and the insights into the relationship between Paddy and Kitty is beautifully told with flashbacks that add depth to them and other characters. The broken and uncomfortable relationships Paddy has with everyone in his past, including his brother and mother are perfectly reinforced with the unique narrative style of no punctuation, broken dialogue and clipped sentences.
The writing style takes a little bit of readjustment and concentration to appreciate its flow, and how creative and poetic the narrative and dialogue are. I would like to thank Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC copy in return for an honest review.