BEFORE WAKING

We are probably all too familiar with that truly comfortable semi-conscious state experienced before waking fully. It is that time of the morning when your bed feels the most comfortable and during which you might either want to prolong your dream or indulge in being oneirocritical by trying to interpret or make sense of your dream. This is when you might listen to the dawn chorus with your eyes closed and your body still in the relaxed mode of sleep. Such a condition is known as hypnopompic and is experienced before we have to ‘snap out’ of it to attend to the demands of the day.

In his delightful book, The Horologican, Mark Forsyth brings to light this and other long disused words in the English language. Another pertinent one here is uhtceare, meaning ‘lying awake before dawn and worrying’. Far too many of us allow the potential concerns of the day to disturb our hypnopompic state or what is also known as the antelucan hush of pre-dawn.

Speaking of which, Forsyth draws our attention to another delightful word, day-raw, which describes the first streaks of colour in the dawn sky. According to him, eighteenth century farmers would have called this the day-peep time of the day – what we now moan about whenever we have to rise ‘at the crack of dawn’ for some compelling reason!

BOOK REVIEW: THE WALLED GARDEN BY CATHERINE DUNNE

This sensitively written account about the healing of the relationship between a dying mother and her daughter is compelling. Catherine Dunne’s fine-tuned descriptions and imagery draw the reader right into the context and setting of her story:

Listening to the uneven breathing of the frail, elderly woman [her mother] beside her, Beth hoped it wasn’t already too late for her to feel beyond the years of sharp exchanges, the slow foxtrot of anger and disappointment that had kept them at arm’s length from the other, dancing to the same old tunes.

The narrative follows Alice through a series of small strokes that leave her increasingly incapacitated. Reconciliation, she realises, will have to come in the form of writing letters to her daughter while she still has the capacity to do so:

God alone knew how long she had left. Now, she was going to give Him a run for his money.

Her daughter, Beth, finds the letters whilst sitting at her comatose mother’s bedside. It is through them that we learn about the background to their estranged relationship; of sacrifices made; of hurts, disappointments and misunderstandings. There is no sentimental soppiness about these letters. Rather, readers are more likely to identify with aspects of their own relationship with their parents or children: life is not always easy.

Alice concludes that:

It was time she apologised to her daughter for holding on too tight, for making hoops of steel out of bonds of love. Mothers and daughters needed ties that would give a little, would bend and stretch with generosity, not break and unravel at the first tugs of defiance and misunderstanding.

As the narrative unfolds, we learn more about the relationship between Beth and her brother, James. Like her, he has domestic troubles of his own to contend with. For now though their focus remains on their dying mother.

I found this novel to be a quick, satisfying read that has left me with a lot to ponder about in its wake. My paperback edition was published by Picador in 2000.

A LIGHT READ

On occasion a very light read is in order: a novel that introduces you to characters, places and situations far removed from your own. A novel that will give you a ‘lift’ when you need one. Roisin Meaney’s It’s that Time of Year fits the bill perfectly.

The right ingredients are there: Annie, the central figure, who has fostered numerous children during her working years. She invites three of her former charges to her wedding. Although they do not know each other and live very different lives – they all love and respect Annie and wouldn’t miss being with her on her special day.

There is Julia, a successful songwriter and singer living in a luxurious apartment in Paris. Her fame was unexpected, but now she is unable to compose either the music or lyrics needed for her next CD: For the first time she’s seriously blocked, and it’s terrifying. What if she’s lost whatever ability she had? What if she never manages to write another song? How will she find a way through this blank wall?

Then there is Steph, living in Spain and now thinking about Ireland: The thought of it, of seeing it again, prompts a small rush of nervous excitement. She knows exactly how long it is since she left – but why does she leave Spain so furtively?

The third of Annie’s former charges to be invited to her wedding is Eddie the chef: Dark shadows under his eyes, the whites bloodshot, the strain showing of too many late nights and rushed meals, and not enough money. He dreamed big, but still has a long way to go. Is he following the right path towards future happiness and success?

First they need to celebrate Annie’s marriage to the man she has loved for practically her whole life. At 61, her dream comes true … but, there is the impending sale of her house, unexpected snow, and lingering concerns about her three ‘children’.

We learn about the strong friendship between Annie and Cora; about building trust; how apparent disasters can shake us out of a rut; and about the inherent goodness of people. This quick and light read is bound to banish the blues, leaving you with a more benign view of the world.

I leave you with the quotation at the start of the story: Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction – Rumi.

FRECKLED NIGHTJAR

How sad it is to come across a fairly uncommon bird, such as this Freckled Nightjar (Caprimulgus tristigma), only in death. These insectivorous birds of the night like a boulder-strewn habitat and are largely sedentary. One can appreciate that its dark cryptic colouring would make it difficult to see from a vehicle driving along a rocky dirt road out in the country at night – see this illustration from the Roberts Bird Guide.

I found this one lying on such a country road early this morning – so early that it was still heavily covered with dew.

Having photographed it, I picked it up and put it among the grass and shrubs growing next to the road. Even in death, it has added to my knowledge of the birds living in our local environment.

BEWILDERMENT – Richard Powers

Richard Powers does not need the accolades plastered on the beautifully designed cover of his novel, Bewilderment, published by Hutchinson Heinemann in 2021.

It is an astonishingly wonderful read that takes us through what could be a bewildering array of journeys with the easy guidance of a master storyteller, who keeps the reader on track throughout by sticking to short and manageable routes.

We explore unbelievable worlds on planets way beyond our ken; relationships that are deep and entwining; the long-term effects of both politics and the economy on the environment; as well as shortcomings of conventional education:

The father and son regularly fall foul of education rules and battle with the idea of Robin being home-schooled as a possible solution. He [Robin] was calm as a skiff on a windless pond. I was capsizing. I wanted to shout, Give me one good reason why you can’t sit in a classroom like every other child your age. But I already knew several.

As the narrative unfolds, we explore the short-sightedness of some laws; the ethical boundaries pushed by scientists ever eager to find out more and to gain funding for their projects; as well as the intrusion of media in its many forms in a bid to satisfy the ‘hunger’ of the public mass for the unusual and interesting events of life – no matter how short-lived or what impact this might have on the individuals concerned:

There was a planet that couldn’t figure out where everyone was. It died of loneliness.

Throughout this bewildering array of paths, is the love of a father for his unusual son which supports his determination to do his best for him whilst trying to protect him from the worst this planet has to offer:

I never believed the diagnoses the doctors settled on my son. When a condition gets three different names over as many decades, when it requires two subcategories to account for completely contradictory symptoms, when it goes from non-existent to the country’s most commonly diagnosed childhood disorder in the course of one generation, when two different physicians want to prescribe three different medications, there’s something wrong.

I highly recommend this novel that will open your mind to all sorts of possibilities and leave you pondering deeply over the way it ends.