PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
‘Brilliant! Dark and atmospheric. It's a compulsive account of how it feels to be tortured and mired in anxiety’.
'It's in the depiction of Dublin- a strange, nebulous city, unfixed in time and place that seems barely tethered to its real-world locus - that The Failing Heart works best...There is something about its oddness, its dirty, smelly, sticky ungraspability that, well, sticks.'
Reading The Failing Heart is like taking a trip; part escape into another consciousness, part suffocating delusion. The story – or rather the scaffolding upon which Smith displays elegant philosophical architecture – follows a young scholar whose mother has just died. Estranged from his father after stealing his money, hounded by the ominous figure of his landlord, and oppressed with images of his ex-lover’s impending labour, he wanders into an existential purgatory.
“All these open mouths, living or dead, they never shut up.” Death is everywhere, through the needs and revulsions of the body, its smells, secretions, drives. The narrative circles in on itself in an ever-decreasing gyre, examining ancient and modern ideas about existence, subjecting philosophical scholarship itself to a sardonic inquiry using its own tools of scrutiny.
The writing is self-aware and wry, with rare flashes of humour amid a claustrophobic search for meaning and desire to confess. Time expands and contracts; it is unclear what is real, what is internalised: at the end of this brief novel there is the sensation of having witnessed the dark dream of a stranger.
his strangely mesmeric tale opens in the aftermath of a death. A graduate student has secreted himself away from his friends and family, intent on completing his overdue dissertation. He’s stripped his life to the basics, and lives in fear of his landlord, who keeps appearing, asking for his dues. He rarely ventures out, because he sees danger around every corner.
The novel then dips back to the death. The narrator, his sister and his father sit around the kitchen table, waiting to be served breakfast. When it finally occurs to the siblings that their mother is not going to appear, that she has, in fact, died in the night, this wonderful debut dissolves into an utterly original form of dark humour.
Grief takes the trio in different directions. The narrator turns to poetry, whilst his father’s anger turns violent. And his sister? She uses indiscriminate sex to dull the pain, her speciality being fellatio.
The narrator has been urged to isolate himself, in order to ponder the all-important question, and this suits him because he’s fallen out with his father. His pregnant girlfriend, Traudal, has left him for another, and his only friend, a depressive, has turned to bird-watching to find solace.
Back in the basement flat, all is decay. He’s clearly depressed, and his mood falls further when Virginia, the goldfish he brought with him for company, leaps out of her bowl in a clear act of suicide. And what is the provenance of that mysterious, deadly smell?
I was subsumed into this novel, living rather uncomfortably in the student’s melancholic mind. Failing to identify the question, let alone come up with an answer for his dissertation, he shambles around town, fearing the very air. At his lowest point, he spends a night or two on an island in the middle of a parkland pond. Then a tragedy brings him up short, Will he manage to turn his life around?
Eoghan Smith is a stylist, and the lyricism of this narrative lifts the general air of gloom. I loved it!'
In his fiction debut, Eoghan Smith creates a piece of writing charged with a need to change, a need to shed the layers we have allowed society to drape us in. In shedding those layers, we can finally hear our grief and listen to our thoughts without being influenced by demands, false promises and shadows. We stand with the young man, nameless, stripped of who we were and all that we knew and we are finally ready to return to ourselves, irrevocably changed.The existential question of who we are has never been asked of us with such lucidity and luminosity.
Haunting, bleak, horrifying and darkly comedic, this is a book to challenge your preferred genre and force you to step outside of your comfort zone. The Failing Heart has 152 pages which makes this an achievable feat for those looking to tiptoe outside of the familiar. I was exhausted after each chapter, drained and spent but I devoured every single word of this truly exquisite debut.
The narrator’s search for the Question, and Schorman’s criticism of this search seems to touch upon the broader philosophical questions that plague life itself. The struggle to find meaning, happiness and make sense of it all. The process is cathartic and traumatic for our protagonist.
It’s through these meditations about death that the character tries to find meaning. As another French philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne had said, “To philosophise is to learn how to die.”
On a simpler level, this book is for those fascinated by the macabre, the grotesque or the noir, sprinkled with dark humour – those who can bear the imagery of a slowly decaying body with its terrible and vibrant colours. The Failing Heart is not, in other words, for the faint hearted.