Spill Summer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

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This one had been on my reading list for a while. There’s been a lot of hype about Baume and she seems to be one of the leading lights in Ireland’s new, hip and young generation of writers, but sadly, I didn’t enjoy this one. She is a supremely talented writer and you can feel the love she has for language leap off the page at you but I feel she’d be much better suited to poetry. If she found that form too stifling, then write the  the odd short story because from this showing, I feel she’s not suited to the novel.

This is the story of a lonely man who strikes up a friendship with a very badly abused dog. The novel charts their first year together and has no narrative to speak of other than the exploration of this man’s relationship with the world he has shut himself off from and how his new canine friend ruptures all his old routines and acts as a brash intermediary between this man and his familiar surroundings.

It’s a novel in which nothing happens. Plenty of Irish writers have written novels in which nothing has happened; John McGahern sprang to mind when I was reading this one, both in the content and setting. Despite Baume being, as I’ve already said, an expert at her craft, where Spill Simmer Falter Wither falls down is that it just seems to be a vehicle for Baume’s own poetic musings. Don’t get me wrong, her musings are wonderful but they don’t have the legs to sustain me for 215 pages. While nothing really happened in many of McGahern’s novels, he surreptitiously imbued them with the full wealth of life’s experience, so that after reading one of his novels I always felt like I’d just returned from an extended sojourn in rural Leitrim. After Baume’s novel, all I felt was the familiar realisation that there are so many trees, flowers and birds whose names, poets seem to enjoy reminding me, I do not know.

Comparing Baume to McGahern might be a bit unfair but I would argue it’s a mark of my esteem for her. She really is a superb writer and so I will judge her by high standards. On this occasion, she falls short of the mark.


You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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