How do you quote a book without any full stops? How do you quote a book that grabs you from beginning to end and washes you away in a stream of thoughts? To do so would be the same as taking a cup of water from that stream and foolishly telling your friends that you have captured the stream itself. That is why I will not be picking out quotes from this remarkable novel from Mike McCormack. If I did, the beautiful words would lose their full value out of context.

John Muir once said that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” This is essentially what McCormack does throughout his fifth novel and this is what works really well to make Solar Bones an exceptional read. 

An empty kitchen. A radio news bulletin. A sick wife. A load of concrete. A old Ford tractor. He takes all these things, and many more, and somehow makes them all part of the whole. 

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Solar Bones is set in the West of Ireland. The reader sees the world through the eyes of County Council engineer Marcus Conway. We meet Marcus as he stands in the empty kitchen of his home just as the Angelus bell rings out over the fields. Marcus is at a bit of a loose end as he waits for his wife and children to come home.

From the very beginning, we get a sense that there is an anxious tension deep within Marcus. His greatest fears and worries are laid bare in a continuous stream of thought as he considers how he has gotten to this quiet moment in the kitchen. He examines and turns over each thought and memory as one would a piece of a puzzle. He then neatly places them all together to form a clear picture of who he really is.

For me, this book perfectly nailed the psyche of the Irish man. The scenes that recount Marcus’ relationships with his wife, children and father are memorable and strangely familiar. A particularly memorable scene describes Marcus’ father’s obsession with taking machinery apart on the farm to fully understand their workings and mechanisms. It is clear to see that Marcus has carried this method with him throughout his own life. However, instead of farm machinery he instead is prone to dissect his interactions and relationships with those around him.

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Solar Bones is set around Clew Bay, one of my favourite parts of Ireland

This method of insight treats the reader to an all-encapsulating view of the world that links politics, engineering and the common man together in an intricate and perfectly balanced universe. Part of what makes Solar Bones a great novel is because it is an eye-opener when it comes to the day-to-day workings of small town politics.

I couldn’t put this book down. It was created to be read in huge amounts. Fittingly a novel that is as Irish as a pint of Guinness, should also be drank in long, luxurious swathes. Then just when I thought I had it all figured out the ending caught me like a slap across the face.

Grab your own copy of Solar Bones and find a nice chair. Sit down, take a breath and dive in. You’ll devour this wholeheartedly in only a few sittings.

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Solar Bones was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year.

Afterthoughts