Mike McCormack

1965- ; b. London; grew up in Louisburg, Co. Mayo; ed. local secondary school; commenced electronic engineering, RTC; worked as gardener; moved to Germany; English and philosophy at Galway (UCG); MA on Heidegger, unfinished; worked in Galway butchershop while writing his stories; encouraged by Cape reader Robin Robertson; 2nd prize in Ian St James Awards, 1994; travelled to Timasoara, Romania; Getting It in the Head (1996), winner of Rooney Prize;

issue his first novel, Crowe’s Requiem (1997), a first-person narrative of a character who undergoes ‘a little death’ in the course of medical testing undertaken to pay off his lover Maria’s debts; issued Notes from a Coma (2005), science-fiction in small-town Ireland where with a Romanian orphan as central character who volunteers for pharmaceutical testing; his next novel Solar Bones (2016), the rural narrative of Marcus Conway, an Irish-boomtime civil engineer whose wife has died of cryptosporidiosis - written as a single sentence, starting in lower case; published by Tramp; winner of the Goldsmith Prize for Solar Bones, in Nov. 2016.

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Getting It in the Head
(London: Jonathan Cape 1996), 235pp., and Do. (London: Vintage [Jonathan Cape] 1997), stories; Crowe’s Requiem (London: Jonathan Cape 1997), 224pp., a novel [pb. 1998];Notes from a Coma (London: Jonathan Cape 2005), 256pp.; Solar Bones (Dublin: Tramp 2016). See also “Terms”, in Steve MacDonogh, ed., Irish Short Stories (Dingle: Mounteagle Press 1998);

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‘Facing up to that Second Book’, interview with Eileen Battersby, in The Irish Times (16 July 1998). See also under Commentary, infra.

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Alev Adil, review of Getting It the Head (1996), in Times Literary Supplement (2 Feb. 1996), p.24: ‘West of Ireland to NY, to Purgatory; a helpless howl of protest that presages the end of the century [and] civilisation itself’; characters in the main young men reaching maturity in ruined world that denies them any faith in the future; ‘The Occupation: A Guide for Tourists’ consists of nine multiple choice questions; author strives to be always fresh; ‘A is for Axe’ ... the message is unremittingly violent and bitter; authorial voice is frequently hectoring and self-important (‘all these colours fixed his imagination into a coherent spectrum of rain. The kid now knew that there was no other fact in creation, no other dynamic in the world except his corrosion and wearing away, this attrition which seemed to level everything down to a uniform plane of ruin.’; dwarfs shoot parents; young farmers grow breasts; ‘at the bottom of our souls all young men are sick’ sickness has ‘a slant of the imagination that preoccupies us with mayhem and blood, slashing and hacking, disease, waste and carnage’; frequent recourse to Catholic imagery and biblical language; ‘My work is to spread the gospel of the knife because in the beginning was the Knife’; considered ‘pretentiously portentous’ by reviewer; ‘Machine: Pat. II’; ‘The Stained Glass Violations’; seem to aspire to surrealism ... tasteless and dreary with despair.’

John Boland, ‘Bookworm’ [column], in The Irish Times (2.10.1996), Weekend, p. 8: ‘Who needs agents? Mike McCormack ... launched at Waterstone’s on Thursday night ... took a chance and sent the manuscript off to a series of publishers. 18 rejections later ... accepted by Cape [biographical details as supra.]

Margaret Walters, review of Crowe’s Requiem, in Times Literary Supplement (24 July 1998): title-character suffering from rare and fatal disease; born (‘fell to earth’) Atlantic coast of Ireland; balance of fantasy and realism; seedy streets and drab studen bedsit transformed when he meets Maria, who falls deeply in love with him; her father contrives to have a star named after her; ‘wishing on a dead star for eternal life. What about that for a neat little irony?’

Liam Harte, review of Notes from a Coma, in The Irish Times ( 14 May 2005), p.13: ‘[...] A cross between Nineteen Eighty-Four and The X Files, the novel charts the progress of JJ O’Malley, born in a Romanian orphanage, and adopted by a bachelor farmer from Louisburgh, Co, Mayo. Although JJ turns out to be a boy genius, his sense of being “cast out without love or grace” is a constant source of unhappiness. Plagued by “mindrot meditations” and shadowed by misfortune, he volunteers to be the control in a government project to test the use of deep coma on long-term prisoners. Along with four others, he is sedated in a high-security neurological unit from where his every brainwave is broadcast live to the worshipful gaze of “a generation anxious to move beyond the cowl and the candle”. [...] Like the best dystopian fiction, Notes from a Coma combines chillingly credible scenarios with acerbic political commentary. As an allegory of the future collapse of both self and state sovereignty, it offers a powerfully imagined critique of the corporatisation of the soul in an intrusively technological age. It also satirises the mediated culture of modern Ireland, where “the fact that we do not know what we are watching nor how to interpret what it is we are watching is now apparently no obstacle to our watching”. Richly inventive and forcefully ironic, Notes from a Coma establishes McCormack as one of the most original and important voices in contemporary Irish fiction.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or as attached.)]

Ian Samson, ‘Solar Bones: an extraordinary hymn to small-town Ireland’, in The Guardian (4 June 2016) : ‘The book is a hymn to modern small-town life, then, with its “rites, rhythms and rituals / upholding the world like solar bones”, as well as an indictment of human greed and stupidity, and how places and cultures respond to the circumstances beyond their control and yet of their own making.’ [Earlier:] ‘Among its many structural and technical virtues, everything in the book is recalled, but none of it is monotonous. Marcus remembers the life of his father and his mother, for example, a world of currachs and Massey Fergusons. He recalls a fateful trip to Prague for a conference. He recalls Skyping his son in Australia, scenes of intimacy with his wife, and a trip to his artist daughter’s first solo exhibition, which consists of the text of court reports from local newspapers written in her own blood, “the full gamut from theft and domestic violence to child abuse, public order offences, illegal grazing on protected lands, petty theft, false number plates, public affray, burglary, assault and drunk-driving offences”. Above all, he remembers at work being constantly under pressure from politicians and developers, “every cunt wanting something”, the usual “shite swilling through my head, as if there weren’t enough there already”. He recalls when his wife got sick from cryptosporidiosis, “a virus derived from human waste which lodged in the digestive tract, so that [...] it was now the case that the citizens were consuming their own shit, the source of their own illness”.’ ’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or as attached.)

Rob Doyle, ‘Portrait of a universe in dereliction’, review of Solar Bones in The Irish Times (7 May 2016) ‘...] In his portrait of rural life in a troubled 21st century, McCormack dispenses with the creaking artificialities of plot, propelling his narrative instead by associative, digressive means. Marcus goes about his workaday life, vexed by municipal corruption, and recalls events from his life and marriage. A visit to his daughter’s debut exhibition, which features a work composed of her blood, triggers a panic attack. [...] Despite the Pascalian backdrop of interstellar desolation, this is no rural misery-lit dirge for an imploding family. Marcus’s relationships with his wife and intelligent, young-adult children are loving and reciprocally stimulating. [...] Not all of the book is equally engaging. Occasionally McCormack over-eggs the entropic pudding, as if anxious to show that he hasn’t abandoned the wilder concerns of his youth in favour of Establishment-friendly, McGahernesque domesticities. Mainly, however, his visionary intensity is not only convincing but spellbinding: the sci-fi imagination has receded, giving way to the awareness that illimitable awe and terror reside right here in the mundane, phenomenal world. / The work of an author in the full maturity of his talent, Solar Bones climaxes in a passage of savage, Gnosticreligiosity: the writing catches fire as we draw near to the void, pass over into death itself, and therein confront the truth that even in a fallen universe, when all distractions tumble away, the only adequate response to our being is astonishment.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or as attached.)

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Steve MacDonogh, ed., Irish Short Stories (Dingle: Brandon [Mounteagle] Press 1998), selects ‘Terms’. Also included in Shenanigans (Sceptre/Lir 1999).

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