What really increased my experience while reading Malarky was getting to interview Anakana Schofield for an article I wrote for The Peak. A lot of the interview didn’t make it into the article, but having Anakana articulate her interests around form, language, and the non-traditional format of the novel was intriguing.
Malarky is Anakana Schofield’s first novel, which took 10 years to write, and has been making “best of” lists across North America since it was published last year, including being shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. As quoted in the article I wrote, Anakana mentions she is “fortunate with this book to get attention,” she is also “quite critical of prize culture.” She feels that prizes and best of lists are driving how we read, “squeezing into boxes of awards and shortlists” and limiting the number of voices heard.
Malarky centres on Our Woman, an Irish widow dealing with the loss of both her son and her husband. While it is receiving praise, it is being called an “experimental format.” The label of ‘experimental’ is probably due to the non-traditional format of the novel, with the point of view changing from first person to third, to omniscient as well as a non-linear construction. Schofield prefers to call it an “episodic fragmentary work.”
Our Woman will not be sunk by what life’s about to serve her. She’s caught her son doing unmentionable things out by the barn. She’s been accosted by Red the Twit, who claims to have done things with Our Woman’s husband that could frankly have gone without mentioning. And now her son’s gone and joined the army, and Our Woman has found a young fella to do unmentionable things with herself, just so she might understand it all.
Malarky is the story of an Irish mother forced to look grief in the eye, and of a wife come face-to-face with the mad agony of longing. Comic, moving, eccentric, and spare, Anakana Schofield’s debut novel introduces a brilliant new voice to contemporary fiction.
From the publisher, Biblioasis
It was this conversation about what the novel was—or could be, and how it changed from reader to reader, and even with each reading—that really piqued my interest. I was just sinking my teeth into Malarky when I spoke with Anakana, and hadn’t really been noticing the changing point of view of the narrator. I was more focused on piecing together the non-linear timeline as each chapter bounced through time. But once my attention was called to it the POV switches, I began to notice three voices emerging. Although some critics and reviews have called this to task as a “beginning writer’s trick”, I feel like it worked; The change in POV demonstrated Our Woman’s mental capacities slowly degrading.
During our interview, Anakana said that she feels that a linear story “being served up on a platter” does “nothing for [her] as a reader and writer.” She explains she “left [the ending] open-ended intentionally” and “didn’t want narratives that tie up in neat little bundles because lives don’t do that.”
While this didn’t frustrate me as a reader—I’m okay with lose ends for the imagination to take and run with—it was nice to have someone articulate that issue in novels. One of my favourite books as a child ended with the character going off on another adventure. Today, that territory would be prime for the sequel pickings. But I feel like not everything needs to have a series, and it certainly doesn’t always end neatly either.
There are dark comedic portions, mostly when Our Woman/Philomena is talking to her counsellor, whom she calls Grief. But the body of the novel explores the life of a woman whose sole purpose was her family—to get married and be a good wife and then mother—and how unexpected changes and incidents affect her. It is a gloomy novel, but the voice of Our Woman is compelling and the prose is well-written.