Stuart Kelly

Everyday unhappiness

Almost every page of A Line Made By Walking has a sentence that I’d gladly record and remember, says Stuart Kelly

This is an extraordinarily compelling novel for one in which nothing really happens but everything changes. Sara Baume’s narrator is Frankie, a 26-year-old art school graduate, who has fled Dublin to live in her dead grandmother’s rural bungalow. What happened to her ‘started with the smelling of carpet’ in her bedsit; she feels such a failure that she ‘can’t even do mental illness properly’. It is all ‘because of nothing… because there’s nothing right with me. Because I cannot fucking help it.’ Over the course of part of a year, she acquires a bicycle from a born-again Christian, allows her father to mow the lawn, takes care of a guinea-pig for her sister, and tries to summon the ghost of her grandmother. She also thinks a lot about art — the text is punctuated with Frankie’s interrogations of herself (‘Works about the Sea, I test myself’, ‘Works about Lying, I test myself’) — and with her own art project, photographing roadkill. The chapters are headed ‘Robin’, ‘Rabbit’, ‘Rat’, ‘Mouse’, ‘Rook’ and so on, and feature a picture of the unfortunate animal.

Those who have read Baume’s intriguing debut, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, will recognise some of this already: an estranged narrator trying to connect with the world via animals and injuries, the non-human as revelatory and epiphanies of everyday unhappiness (‘Now I look like a perfectly regular person, definitely not a genius,’ Frankie realises). What makes it so gripping is that the reader is trapped in Frankie’s mind as much as she is; every tiny detail is magnified into metaphysical significance that she cannot understand and that the reader cannot parse.

Almost every page has a sentence or an observation that made me wish I had a commonplace book to transcribe Frankie’s — or Baume’s — precisely opaque and fleeting thoughts.

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