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A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume (Book Review)

'What is it about crying? As if my body believes that squeezing all its salt out might somehow quell the sadness. As if sadness is a parasite which suckles on sodium chloride.'

Book Review

Sara Baume is a very interesting writer, part of a group of upcoming Irish writers alongside, Kevin Barry, Einear McBride, Claire Keegan and Paul Lynch to name but a few. But is there something about the Irish intellect, way of life, sensitivity, or indeed their response to current contemporary literature that makes them different to others, a voice with more to say and more literary nous with which to say it? Well, it’s impossible to answer that with any certainty, but what I can say is that Baume’s voice seems fresh, exciting and worthy of note. I haven’t read her first novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, but I intend to. For now though, for this review, let’s focus on her second novel ‘A Line Made by Walking’

The first thing you notice about Baume as a writer is that she seems torn between literature and art, and has even admitted to being so in interview. And so it would seem she has come up with a rather unique and satisfying way in which her novel can be both. The main character, Frankie – a twenty-something artist, who is spending time alone away from the city, in solitude, in her late grandmother’s bungalow, tests herself throughout the novel on works of art that rather cleverly relate to things she is feeling as she works through her depression and inability to handle the stresses of the modern world.

One example of this comes as Frankie tests herself about Light, or maybe dark? She writes, ‘I test myself: Martin Creed, work No. 227: The lights going on and off…’ she tells how she likes what it means and how the art installation both angered and bored people, but that she had tried it at home, forcing her to consider, ‘The light and dark in everything.’ This particular example of testing herself came about from the lights in her grandmother’s kitchen not coming on one evening. Also, each time Frankie tests herself on a work of art, we are illuminated and given chance to sink deeper into the mindset of this young lady’s mind, and to oversee her depression and her desire to be alone, and yet paradoxically, her struggle with loneliness. She tests herself on artworks with topics such as sky, wind, wrongness, discomfort, and many more besides.

And talking of Frankie’s depression and alienation from the world, this novel could, by the power of osmosis and the heavy subject matter, have been depressing. But Baume manages to mostly avoid this, by handling her character’s depression and darker moments, with an observational wit and humour. Much of this comes from Frankie’s past when she wasn’t so depressed, and when she wasn’t seeing the dark in everything. That being said, the story does of course hinder on the morose at times, and the photos of dead animals, seen as potential works of art taken by Frankie, maybe too much for some. But I feel that Frankie’s desire to take pictures of dead animals, is perhaps showing that she does at least have a healthy attitude towards death, and ultimately therefore has a chance to feed that healthy outlook back into her understanding of life and her own potential for happiness within it.

In fact, we get a sense that the character is going to be okay, because she is willing to eventually thrust herself out of her situation, and throw herself deeper into the world away from the safety of her grandmother’s bungalow, and all of this seems to stem from the courage and confidence she finds in her art. In every sense, Frankie appears to be steering her ship towards a new beginning, but to avoid cliché and happy endings, there is a certain amount of ambiguity in the way Baume leaves the central character, for she must have felt that in the end, Frankie’s story, just like art and just like life itself, should be left open for individual interpretation.

I thoroughly recommend this book, especially if like me, you’ve been enjoying the works of other emerging Irish authors lately. They certainly seem to have something fresh to say about the human condition, and have found new and novel ways of saying it. I just hope that Sara Baume does decide to keep writing, for at the moment I fear she seems torn between two mediums.

Sara Baume


320pp. Heinemann. £12.99.

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