The acclaimed, award-winning essayist and memoirist returns to fiction with this reflective, bittersweet tale that introduces the irrepressible aging poet Thomas Murphy - a paean to the mystery, tragedy, and wonder of life.
Trying his best to weasel out of an appointment with the neurologist his only child, Máire, has cornered him into, the poet Thomas Murphy - singer of the oldies, friend of the down-and-out, card sharp, raconteur, piano bar player, bon vivant, tough and honest and all-around good guy - contemplates his sunset years. Máire worries that Murph is losing his memory. Murph wonders what to do with the rest of his life. The older mind is at issue, and Murph's jumps from fact to memory to fancy, conjuring the islands that have shaped him - Irishmaan, a rocky gumdrop off the Irish coast where he was born, and New York, his longtime home. He muses on the living, his daughter and precocious grandson William, and on the dead, his dear wife Oona, and Greenberg, his best friend. Now, into Murphy's world comes the lovely Sarah, a blind woman less than half his age, who sees into his heart, as he sees into hers. Brought together under the most unlikely circumstance, Murph and Sarah begin in friendship and wind up in impossible possible love.
An Irishman, a dreamer, a poet, Murph, like Whitman, sings lustily of himself and of everyone. Through his often extravagant behavior and observations, both hilarious and profound, we see the world in all its strange glory, equally beautiful and ridiculous. With memory at the center of his thoughts, he contemplates its power and accuracy and meaning. Our life begins in dreams, but does not stay with them, Murph reminds us. What use shall we make of the past? Ultimately, he asks, are relationships our noblest reason for living?
Behold the charming, wistful, vibrant, aging Thomas Murphy, whose story celebrates the ageless confusion that is this dreadful, gorgeous life.
©2016 Roger Rosenblatt (P)2015 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.
Thomas Murphy seems to be losing step with the rest of the world these days. Meeting the disheveled old soul (when our story opens), he appears an old curmudgeon, a mumbling misanthropic stumblebum that eschews bathing and laundry; leaves eggs boiling on the stove when he steps out to the pub; a half-cracked fan of Irish whiskey and Irish ballads...sung wholeheartedly under the moonlight before retiring to his bed. His pals nowadays are likewise suited, occupants of the streets, congregated out of the mainstream in the flotsam of genteel society. Since the murder of his life-long friend, he spends time with a mountainous man that sleeps on a bench and who just occasionally believes himself a bear. Murphy ruminates about his recently deceased wife, and dodges his daughter's attempts to corral him into the doctor's office, something she's been insistent about since the day in the park that he *forgot* his beloved grandson.
When it comes to mind, he scribbles a poem. Murphy, it turns out, was/is a great Irish poet -- in the tradition of great Irish poets. In his lifetime, he has spun words into divinely beautiful poetry acclaimed around the world. His memory of awards and eggs, days in the park and friends is fading now, and the words that once came so fluidly are slipping away as the mutiny continues in his old body. What remains vivid is the pain of what he is losing: "as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village where there are no phones" (Billy Collins; Forgetfulness). Murphy is resolved to rage, rage against the dying of the light, and take the reader with him as he narrates the journey ahead with some highlights from his past. Into his future he takes us with the battle cry: “So live! More noisily than ever. Court life. . . . Sing it a love song. Belt it out at the top of your lungs.”
One of my *best of* for 2016; a brilliant novel and the introduction of an unforgettable character in the exuberant poet Thomas Murphy. A truly great read enlarges your scope, challenges your comforts and concepts, and occupies your mind and heart. Rosenblatt's writing is nothing less than poetry itself. He mixes the flights of uncontrolled thoughts with the grounded wisdom of living and never lets pity override dignity. In Murphy he holds up the outward image of decline and crumbling, and seems to channel the words of Thomas: "Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight; Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay the spirit still shines bright and hungry (Dylan Thomas; Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night). It is a celebration of life. You feel not so melancholy that Murphy is old and losing control of his thoughts, but more the regret for the time we didn't get to have with him. The loss is ours.
I want this in hard copy, but am thrilled that I chose first to listen to Gerard Doyle bring Murphy to life for me. His respect for the author's words, and his totally inhabiting the character of Murphy made this one of those rare Audio experiences that you want to share.
The lyrical prose danced from the reader's lips into my brain not slowing a bit through the ears. The poet character was so beautifully portrayed through the first person rambling thoughts rattling around in his ageless mind as others were accusing him of losing his mind! The writing was wonderful but I think I fell head over heels in love with the reader, Gerard Doyle!
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