Kate Bateman, review of Skin of Dreams, by Evelyn Conlon, in The Irish Times (23 May 2003), Weekend, p.10.

An electric chair, or rather, a “medium-sized model small enough to have been transported in a large suitcase”, is found on the lawn of the White House by a groundsman. In her latest novel, Evelyn Conlon tilts at the image-making industry by playing their game. The heroine of the piece, Maud Mannering, has a double agenda: to create a global media moment for the present-day inhabitants of Death Row and to foreground a miscarriage of justice perpetrated on her great-uncle, Harry Tavey, aka Harry Gleeson, who was hanged in the 1940s for a crime he didn't commit. By the end of the novel, after the protagonist has made three trips to the US , we are on terms with the entire Death Row community - condemned inhabitants, family members, constantly-on-the-move protesters and jail personnel.

Skin of Dreams opens with Maud, seat-belted on an Aer Lingus plane in a prior-to-landing pattern, musing (in the paranoiac fashion that afflicts passengers) will she get by customs and might the Special Branch nab her? The blending of fact and fiction starts with the name Maud - yes, of course, of Maud Gonne fame. The gentle parodic motif continues as she and her twin brother, Malachy, move to the city and, conventionally, set about getting a flat, academic training and jobs. Maud becomes a civil servant, her brother a teacher. She has a few desultory affairs, while Malachy acquires a sister-in-law for Maud to be spiky about. Then enter the well-known trope of a sealed package found among the effects of dead parents. The contents and the ensuing mission are kept from Malachy until the end of the story, by which time Maud also has found love with the house-partner.

Skin of Dreams is a blend of anti-capital punishment discourse and occasional humorous vignettes, such as the dissection of the nosy “B & B woman” in her guest house and the rote-response hotel receptionist. Conlon satirises ad agency notions “of conceptualising whatever there is to conceptualise” and mocks installation art, television arts programmes and the PR industry. However, she is entirely earnest about the business of public protest. This is not a warm novel; the characters further the plot and adhere to the, author’s agenda. But though the tone is as jagged as Maud’s jet-lag, descriptions of camp life with the Death Row community - The journeyers remain with the reader.

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