When writing prose, one expect…

10 October 2018

When writing prose, one expects either first or third person, but not both which O’Callaghan does in his goth novella, “Nothing on Earth”. Lodge (p.

88, 1988) states that writing in the two tenses “can disorientate the reader” and disrupt “logical relationships between the concepts or entities or events.” Typically, the genre is flamboyant and disjointed, with grim content which is certainly true of O’Callaghan’s novella. The reader may feel disengaged by several nameless characters: the girl, a cleaner, an elderly priest (a pivotal character and narrator), and his brother. While “the novel may not be a dialogue with the author” (Fludernik, 2001), readers could find their “quest for the origin of the text”, (Dawson, 2013) and “interactional experience,” (ibid) puzzling. Although O’Callaghan’s voice “remains invisible” (p. 45, Alvarez, 2005), the reader is invited to “imagine hearing a voice on a page speak out to ..

. grab your attention,” (Utley, 2015) which the narrator’s voice achieves resolving any polemic of “voice”.

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“Arousing and holding the [reader’s attention] is by being specific, definite and concrete” in plain language, style and linked voice, (Strunk, p.22, 1926). O’Callaghan, however, entices readers, embroidering the book’s fabric with florid language: the girl’s “[English] “freeze-dried…

taken out of the vacuum packing” (p. 11), “drifted through those rooms with invisibilities weightlessness” (p. 45) or “slid into her sandals” (p. 69). “Voice” “give[s] the impression of speaking naturally …

is persuasive, artificiality is the contrary; for our hearers are prejudiced”, Elbow (2007). An obvious “naturalness” exists between Martina and her niece, the girl, as they chat in the garden (p. 60). Martina asks the girl what Mutti (as the girl calls her mother, “Helen, not her real name (p. 21)), said “about her darling sister [Martina]” (p. 60). The girl replies “Martina loved being gawked at” (ibid); softer vowels and consonants accentuate the hard, gutteral voiced plosive of /g/ and /k/ in “gawked” in this paragraph.

Martina and the girl sunbathe as if it is “work” (p. 63). Using Martina’s phone, the girl sets a timer alert, records herself singing “Everybody turn,” and to end their sunbathing ritual sets the timer to play “Everybody turn! Everybody turn!” (p. 63). Disappearance of the girl’s parents, Helen (p. ), Paul (p. 109), and the girl herself (p.

142) and related police investigations. Paul rejects police suspicions that Helen went to London (p. 53). When Paul was made redundant, the girl was waiting outside in pyjamas (p. 81). He exclaims: “What the hell is going on?” The girl “felt safer outside,” ..

. “[Martine]’s not in her room”(ibid). Paul calls the property developer, Flood, asks for Marcus, their security guard (p. 84). Reluctantly Flood admits Marcus went to Reading weeks ago (p. 85). Ipso facto no site security and Martina had “doll[ed] herself up to visit an empty caravan” (ibid).

One of many far-fetched scenarios is the girl’s father, Paul’s, disappearance waiting for the girl’s freshly baked flapjacks which she had said would be “ready in ten minutes” (p. 108). The girl calls her father who doesnt reply. She goes through the rooms but cannot find him. Then, “[t]he kitchen started bleating:”(p. 109) ” Everybody turn, … Everybody turn…,” (ibid). “Both the front and back door were locked from the inside.

” The keys rattle in her father’s jacket pocket (ibid). It harkens back to sunbathing with Martina; the girl recorded herself singing “Everybody turn, … Everybody turn. (p.63), pose more unanswered questions: Where did Paul go? How had he left a house which was locked on the inside, with the keys in his jacket pocket in the house? Is the “bleating” kitchen the mobile phone?Language describing the girl’s reactions convey a demented, panic-stricken flight. Phrases signalling her desperation include: “sprinted without breathing or stopping” and “she hammered” [on the door] (p. 11). A traumatised child, what drove her to “[try] very hard not to start crying” (p.

11) while explaining her desolation to the priest whose front door she had pounded. Attempts to answer such questions is an academic exercise in futility. As the novella begins, so it ends. A pattern of people, services and things appear or disappear. The girl, on encountering the priest, says, “one minute he [her Papa] is behind you. And next time he was gone.” (p.

11); the girl’s mother, “Helen goes out and didn’t return”, (p. 51); cement mixer, breeze blocks, soil, wheels, doors, … disappeared (p. 69); “[a]fter the water, the money ran out. .

.. line went dead” (p. 105); Paul shaking hands with the Poles at number 3″ (p. 92); Martina’s unreported disappearance “a month ago”, (p. 135), “demons”, noises” and Poles in number three” which the Priest “knew ..

. remained vacant” (p. 138). The novella concludes in the only way it can; the brother from the States “stop[s] anwering” the priest’s calls (p. 173). In interviews, O’Callaghan says life is uncertain and inconclusive and “everything we know about the book [its oddities and anomalies] are in the book. We can only know what is in the book.

If it is not in the book we cannot know it” (ibid), a truism of fiction, but quintessential to O’Callaghan’s novella.

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