Derek Hand, review of Keith Ridgeway, The Parts, in The Irish Times (18 Jan. 2003), Weekend

Details: orig. access date unknown; unable to trace Irish Times link at 05.10.2023.

The plot of Keith Ridgway’s new novel is somewhat improbable. Indeed, the title of the novel, The Parts, is utterly appropriate and demonstrates the author’s own awareness of the precarious nature of his storyline. Each character: Joe, the radio talk-show presenter; Barry, his producer; Delly, the eccentric (and rich) recluse; her partner, Kitty Flood; Dr George, her adopted son; and Kez, a rent boy plying his trade on the banks of the Liffey, has their role in the unfolding action, which operates roughly along the lines of a thriller’s.

But the plot is merely a convenience: Ridgway knows that in a novel something must happen, and it does. For the author, and the reader, what is truly interesting are the details - the bits and pieces - that accumulate on the journey to that final end when all the parts come together neatly and everything is worked out satisfactorily.

All of Keith Ridgway’s writing thus far has managed to brilliantly combine the somewhat fantastic with the seemingly mundane. This forces his readers to rethink the comfortable reality they think they know so well.

Once again in this novel, beneath the veneer of plot and action, he manages to create characters shot through with pulsating authenticity. Ridgway’s crystalline prose opens up wonderful moments of powerful perception and reflection for the reader. He has the ability to dissect gloriously the foibles of Celtic Tiger Dublin or, rather, as we are told, the cities of Dublin - with the stress very much on the plural.

In his previous work, a collection of short stories entitled Standard Time, many of Ridgway’s characters faced the dilemma of not knowing where they lived in a Dublin experiencing transition on a number of levels. In this novel his characters know where they live, but don’t know how to live.

Modern Irish life as portrayed here consists of trivialities and insignificance. The media is seen as utterly self-contained, having no real impact beyond itself. Technology, too, as embodied in the Internet and the ubiquitous mobile phone, demonstrates how objects supposedly designed to aid communication and connection can actually exacerbate dislocation and alienation. People no longer have to be grounded in any one specific space or, indeed, identity. Contemporary Dublin thus becomes a place where one can be whoever one wants to be. And yet, all seem to be unable to fully engage with those possibilities, as if lost amid the numerous roles offered them. Kez, the real hero of the novel, realises that power and control come from perspective or the knowledge that perspective may bring. Nevertheless, he too almost loses himself among the many aliases and identities he has created. His story, and thus the novel’s main focus, is one reduced to one of basic survival.

This is a novel remarkably mindful of its own status as a text: that is, as a thing made up of signs and dots and words. Kez, for instance, even has a slightly different typeface to signal the shift in narrative perspective and his difference from the others. Such an acknowledgement of form indicates the difficulty that exists in the telling. Thus, the characters’ struggle to project themselves in the stories they create becomes the author’s own as he searches for a form appropriate to the story he is attempting to relate.

The result, in the end, is a compelling novel, multifaceted and multi-layered, with voices and stories jostling on the page, vying for our attention. They get it and keep it.

In the process Keith Ridgway reveals himself as one of the more inventive fiction writers of the moment, furthering his project of articulating the uncertainties and the anxieties at the heart of contemporary Irish life.

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