Written by Nick Laird, poet and husband of Zadie Smith, this is the story of five days in the life of lawyer Dan Williams. His past and present lives collide with the arrival of Geordie, an old friend from school in Northern Ireland.
Hailed as one of the ‘post troubles’ novelists, Laird’s work is characterised by the black humour of those writers. Dan’s hometown is a not even thinly veiled version of Laird’s own, Cookstown. I’m not sure that I recognise his version of Northern Ireland but then everyone’s experience of life during the 80s and early 90s was different, depending on location.
The language and imagery is recognisable though as Laird blends the comic and the everyday and brings his character back to NI on the eve of the 12th of July to help oil the wheels of a takeover of Ulster Water, a company staffed by aunt like figures who eventually force him to question his corporate loyalties. And that pull of the past and questioning what it means to be Northern Irish are two of the novel’s key themes, both explored in a comic but sensitive way.
There are echoes of Smith’s White Teeth in the language and locales in London. But this is a Willesden/north London populated by corporate types with few of the issues of Smith’s characters. And we see more of the city, inevitable given the similarities with Laird’s own profession of lawyer.
This has left me wanting to find out more about Laird’s work – he talks about the formative landscape he shares with Heaney, and that’s something I can certainly relate to.