This is Anakana Scofield’s second novel. I seemed to have missed her first, Mularky. Martin John [High Wycombe: & Other Stories, 2016] is an artistic and intellectual tour de force. In the tradition of writers who can project themselves into the mind, mannerisms and minefield of seeing the world from an altogether different and damaged perspective (for example, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) Schofield creates a character whom we might well cross the street to avoid but who, even so, deserves our compassion.
My tutor would have called her style post-modern but the material and the message is in the here and now. Having transgressed in his Irish hometown, Martin John is packed off to London by his mother, at a loss to know how to cope with his behaviour. It might have momentarily have eased her problem but it simply means that Martin John continues his obsessive-compulsive and anti-social behaviour elsewhere. We see too how difficult it is for a fragmented, inadequately funded and endemically poor-to-communicate social care sector to cope with problem behaviour like Martin John’s.
Martin John is convinced that his unofficial lodger, Baldy Conscience, is out to get him and that everyone else is in league with Baldy; perhaps even his own mother.
Mam said I can’t save you.
She never said the truth. The truth is THEY ARE COMING FOR HIM. How long has she known about Baldy Conscience?
Did she maybe send him? Have they met?
Did they meet at Euston?
Was it mam who told him to go do the circuits at Euston?
No. No. That’s not it. She said keep the head down. She said she didn’t want him on the Tube. She said Keep the head down, Into bed at night, Don’t mind anybody and they won’t be minding you either. She said other things. He cannot remember the other things. Did she warn him about Baldy Conscience? How did she know about Beirut?
He is confused. Painfully confused. He must walk. He must settle this question of what mam knows.
The book is built from short, sometimes very short, blocks of text. The text repeats and restates Martin John’s problems exactly as one imagines they occur to him. It also conveys his mother’s despairs and exasperations. It brings home the obsessive-compulsive mind-set of Martin John. How can one convince a sociopath that we are not all out to get him since some of us so obviously are? In this respect alone, Schofield’s book is a ‘must read’. We shall hear more from this English-born Irish-Canadian author and we are indebted to & Other Stories for publishing this book.