June 27, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Anakana Schofield's Malarky is a brilliant debut novel that depicts one woman's descent into madness with dark humor and an intimate eye for grief and sorrow.
The Montreal Gazette wrote of the book:
"Toeing the delicate line between tragedy and comedy – the former inherent in the bare facts of Our Woman’s life, the latter in her irrepressible voice – Schofield starts at a pitch of inspiration most novels are lucky to reach at any point and remarkably sustains that level all the way through."
My novel Malarky, an episodic and fragmented work, is the culmination of 10 years work, so that involved quite a bit of music passing through my Eustachian stations. As I wrote it I often imagined music coming through or underneath the text, as I am a little fixated on rhythm and sound. Here are a combination of tracks that either I listened to repeatedly or are perkily redolent of aspects of the text. I have a tendency to listen and re-listen to single songs in a manner that would probably startle the professionals and have me carted off. I have a peculiar relationship to music, I wish it were a remarkable one, but it's simply peculiar.
"The Auctioneer" - Leroy Van Dyke
The farmer's co-op scene in Episode One of Malarky where Our Woman meets the farmer who asks her to read what size collar is on the shirt. Van Dyke might be singing about Arkansas, but they could be singing about any cattle market in rural Ireland. What I enjoy about this song is the overlap and how trippingly it tosses itself off the tongue. (The complete antithesis to writing a book, which is a more slow and painful gasping)
"Small Town Boy" - Bronski Beat
There's something very universal in this Bronski Beat number. And claustrophobic. Reminds me of Thatcher's grey and brutal reign. I grew up with all these gay melodies with no real comprehension of their meaning or content. It all went over my head, but into my aorta. In some ways it has now come out again through my pen. Malarky has a homo-erotic undertone, hence when I wrote the blow-job scene in the barn, where the mother stumbles upon her son, this song could have been wailing out a radio in the corner, or the window of a passing car. Small Town Boy somehow signifies the universality of sexual fumbling and stumbling. Getting out/getting it out.
"Relax" - Frankie Goes to Hollywood
I particularly enjoy the banned video version of this song, as it reminds me of the 1980's, followed by early 90's when I had a friend who was a Go-Go dancer at a gay club in London. He wore a teeny pair of black shorts. I can't remember if there was a cage, I think not. Then AIDS swept through and I will never forget the terror that came with it and hearing stories of people dying within what seemed like only months of diagnosis.
I spent time in gay clubs in London. It was the best place a straight woman could have some fun. I was in the theatre world at the time it would not have occurred to me to go to a straight club for any celebratory purpose. (Actually it wouldn't have occurred to me to go to one period, since I was more inclined towards the library.)
"Stand By Your Man" - Tammy Wynette
It's the dress and the lampshade hair and the body stiffness more than any other aspect of this song. Tammy sings it out, plain and clear like slicing a carrot. I pay attention on account mainly of the garb. It's a moment of weak visual fickleness. A confession. Sometimes it's necessary to confess.
"The Church of the Poisoned Mind" - Culture Club
Sunday evening -- the Top 40 booming out of the bathroom with the radio lead dragged under the door -- these were the songs that iced what was otherwise a largely uneventful Sunday concerned only with Mass and homework and teen tedium.
"The River Moy" - Jack Ruane
"The Boys of the Lough" - Jack Ruane
This is what I call "bad jumper" music. I remember my mother took us to watch The Boys of the Lough once. I fell asleep. This kind of music came back to me while writing my novel. Corner of the kitchen radio songs, Radio Mid-West. It all adds a certain pacing to the day. I imagined Our Woman, alone in her kitchen, plotting her territory, hanging fast to her strategy of interrogation rather than defeat and as her brain ticked "jumper music" serenaded her, but she was probably indifferent to it.
"Shirley" - Billy Bragg
I like Billy Bragg -- do I need to say anything further? I came of age during the Miners Strike, Wapping and Thatcher. No further info required. None of us could have survived the 1980's without Billy Bragg, John Peel and the curling tongs (curling iron).
"London Calling" - The Clash
The movement in this song, the plunging stride certainly informed the various plunges Our Woman took in Malarky. I'd say her heart rate was somewhere around the tempo of that guitar also.
"Changes" - David Bowie
Bowie signifies a calmed ascension, which is likely the antithesis of what the main character in Malarky lives with which is a tad closer to
"Is There Life on Mars?" - David Bowie
"Children of the Revolution" - T-Rex
I would often listen to this song/watch this video and wish I were a completely different writer, maybe a science fiction writer or a journalist at Rolling Stone. (I think I am too short to be a Rolling Stone journalist, I wouldn't be able to reach the door bell) I love the audacity that stomps through the performance.
Catsuits and hair and arm waving sit well with the outrageous interrogation that Our Woman in Malarky engages with, where she decides to go after that which has upset her and why she won't be sunk. Stamp, stamp, arms up, head shake, boil the kettle, stamp, stamp.
"Cricklewood" - Christy Moore
"An Ordinary Man" - Christy Moore
This is another pair of songs I listen to again and again and again. With no riveting explanation why, except Christy's a songwriter who has documented a period in Irish social history that somehow the writers failed to nail onto the page. I go to these tracks to puzzle out why it didn't matter more to the writers and wonder whether I'd ever be able to do anything about that. Probably not.
Thuas as Gort a Charnáin Siar an Bóthar" - Dolores Keane
There's a chesty quality I appreciate in some women's speaking speaking voices in the West of Ireland. This song is saturated in low wheezy notes yet sturdy as a brick. I love how Dolores voice goes straight through you: Right through your belly and out the back of you. The Irish language has been important to me for about 20 years. My grasp of it is dubious but not entirely hopeless. I have tried to learn to sing this song and will have to fail better and appreciate exquisite sturdy Dolores in the meantime.
Farewell Performance - Maria Callas
I watched and listened to this endlessly mainly because Malarky was driving me around the bend, it was a very protracted and difficult book to write.
Thus I began to take retirement very seriously and lived vicariously through Maria Callas latter vocal moments.
"Metamorphosis 4 & 5" - Phillip Glass ("I play them with just a small break between").
I longed to translate the rolling, rumbling and tumbling in these pieces into my prose. I would mainly breathe it in and recognize my inadequacy to ever do such. Boil the kettle and repeat. One thing I insisted on in Malarky was a rotating point of view, that included the possessive (as in Our Woman). The rolling around inherent in this music and the constant sense of a return to an earlier point gave me courage to insist on rhythm and repetition and to fight against the linear. Also, it gave me courage to plod, to hover, since Glass dawdles on his notes, bending in and out of them, while tinkering just above, below and humming under them. This dawdling and bending within every day moments was a place I longed to inhabit in my prose. Each episode in Malarky is an extrapolation of a single moment in Our Woman's life.
During some of my most challenging years with Malarky I would attend classical concerts and sit puzzling over the movements in music and musical form and try to bleed from it some understanding of how this might relate to a piece of prose. I wanted to conceive of my novel as a score. I also had this unrelated burdening query that perhaps music was the art form into which one could pour all of one's sadness. I never resolved that question. I am not even sure why I asked myself it, which suggests I should probably revisit it. I also admit to having these two compositions on repeat, which suggests I maybe listened to them hundreds and hundreds of times back to back.
"Redemption Song" - Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros
I had to force myself to give up Joe Strummer for New Year once. I only lasted about 3 weeks. I felt I had to give him up because I could become so overwhelmed with sadness that he's dead. His voice talking at the beginning of this song just kills me every time and yet raises me up when he says "without people you're nothing". The beautiful contradiction of sadness.
I recover my sadness by listening to "Johnny Appleseed." Joe provides for recovery, he's good this way. Thoughtful.
Anakana Schofield and Malarky links:
Conversational Reading review
Georgia Straight review
Irish Central review
Montreal Gazette review
National Post review
Pickle Me This review
The Rover review
Slightly Bookist review
Something Daily review
Vancouver Sun review
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