The Wake (And What Jeremiah Did Next)

BOOK: The Wake (And What Jeremiah Did Next)
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colm Herron’s first writing career began at the age of seven when he sold his vampire stories to classmates. Two years later he was telling cliffhangers to the wasters in the local gambling hall. Colm’s abiding memory is that these ne’er-do-wells seemed to enjoy this weekly break from misspending their lives.

When he was fifteen he had a play on BBC and later brought his short stories to Brian Friel, an emerging playwright. Friel said “Great. This stuff’s better than what I wrote at your age.” But Colm was unimpressed and thought “This guy’s going nowhere. I don’t know why I came to him at all.”

So Colm gave up writing, deciding to live instead. Meanwhile Brian Friel’s plays became huge hits and over the next thirty years he built up a richly deserved reputation as Ireland’s greatest living playwright. And what of Herron? Well, while Brian Friel’s plays were showing worldwide to critical and popular acclaim a kaleidoscope of stories was kicking and turning in Colm’s head. But they still weren’t ready to come out. Till twelve years ago, that is, when he said to himself “OK, I’ve lived. Maybe it’s time to do the other thing.”

And so began his second writing career…

ACCLAIM FOR COLM HERRON’S PREVIOUS NOVELS

For I Have Sinned

“Perhaps the greatest tribute I can pay to this quirky, funny and deeply affecting novel is to declare that the moment I finished reading it, I immediately turned back to the first page to begin again. And it’s even better second time round.”

—Ferdia MacAnna,
Sunday Independent

Further Adventures of James Joyce

“A totally comic novel ….
Further Adventures of James Joyce
could just as easily be entitled The Further Writings of Flann O’Brien.”

—Morris Beja,
James Joyce Quarterly
, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Fabricator

“Fascinating, funny, sad and delightful. From its opening lines right through to its final pages
The Fabricator
is not like anything you have read before.”

—Kellie Chambers,
Ulster Tatler

COLM HERRON
THE WAKE
(AND WHAT JEREMIAH DID NEXT)

This edition: Copyright © Colm Herron 2015

This novel was first published in 2014 by Nuascéalta Teoranta

Visit Colm Herron’s website: colmherron.com

Contact Colm on Twitter: @colmherron

Cover by © Lermagh Graphics

Formatting by 52 Novels

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.

ISBN-13: 978-0-9546453-6-6

ISBN-10: 0-9546453-6-7

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

A small number of the spellings – and some of the grammar – in this novel may seem a little odd. I did this deliberately so as to reproduce authentic
northern Irish speech.

OTHER NOVELS BY COLM HERRON

For I Have Sinned

Further Adventures of James Joyce

The Fabricator

For Nuala

Preface

What is most remarkable about Colm Herron’s writing is the fact that it is so completely real in time and place. His prose, ripe with wit, has that poetic Irish lilt that makes you turn the page hungry for what is coming.

Initially set at a traditional northern Irish wake, the novel unfolds into the drama of what chief mourner Jeremiah does next and in doing so it transcends the traditional literature of Irish shores and travels brilliantly to reach out to all cultures with its universal themes.

As with James Joyce, there is no wasted language, only truth that makes you laugh and hurt as Herron applies the psychological meat to the flesh of his characters. The mood is lighter here than in Herron’s other groundbreaking novels and further cements his reputation as Ireland’s most gifted and important novelist writing today, in the same canon of Irish literature as Joyce and Beckett.

Strider Marcus Jones, poet,
Hinckley, Leicestershire, UK
August 31, 2015

Foreword

Colm Herron’s The Wake (And What Jeremiah Did Next) — a nod to the nickname for James Joyce’s final bewildering novel Finnegans Wake — is yet another exciting Irish comic work, packed with psychosexual and historicocritical detail, by the critically acclaimed, constantly inventive and forward thinking Derry author.

Boldly revamping his style (a welcome tradition within his oeuvre), Herron’s novel is by far his most accessible and (deceptively) light read. (His previous works adopt more complex academic techniques: autobiografiction in For I Have Sinned; and metatextuality in Further Adventures of James Joyce). The Wake’s title states tersely, and wittily, its two-part structure. Part 1: ‘The Wake’ (the hero attends, and organises a Wake) and part 2: ‘What Jeremiah Did Next’ (which is, amusingly, precisely that: namely, what he did after the wake).

Within the first section, Herron contributes to the Irish literary tradition of ‘Wake’ writing but his work is unique, and defines and details the unique Derry wake. The dialect is heavy yet easily understood, for Herron writes in a style not intended to confuse but to make his text as authentic and realistic as possible. The Hiberno-English in J.M Synge’s work is similarly impressive; the aesthetic aim being to poeticise Irish speech.

The second section (in a brave authorial step by Herron) involves a complete retelling of the ‘Long March’ section of his 2012 historical novel The Fabricator: an ambitious and well executed plotline that reveals itself to us slowly; and the experimental stylistic concept lends itself well to Herron’s often hilarious dialogue and dark “Troubles Literature” subject matter. Overall, it’s highly delightful (like all of his novels) on both of its reading levels: swift accessible pure comic fiction and academic literature that deserves inclusion into the Irish contemporary canon.

Dr Jonathan McCreedy
University of Sofia (“St. Kliment Ohridski”), Bulgaria
September 4, 2015

Author’s Introduction

I was born an Irish pagan and baptised an Irish Catholic. The Catholic bit was an accident, the reason being of course that if I’d been the offspring of a Protestant Unionist family I’d have been baptised a Protestant. When I come to think of it, probably being born at all was my first accident. Or rather, being conceived at all. In those days no Irish Catholic parents actually planned their families. I would say that at this moment there are hundreds of thousands of Catholic accidents over the age of fifty walking about the streets of Northern Ireland.

I grew up to the intermittent sounds of Catholic feet marching for freedom from British rule in our little corner of Ireland. But much louder and far more frequent were the Ulster Loyalist/Unionist bands marching for the maintenance of British rule here. And louder still were the – to me – demonic rants of the Reverend Ian Paisley who thundered that the pope of Rome was the Antichrist and the Jesuits the secret police of the Vatican.

I had never seen that reverend gentleman in the flesh, only on television or in the newspapers. And it was these parts of the media that led me to try and fill in the gaps by studying Irish history. In the course of my studies I doggedly dumped what I saw as large chunks of bunk and soon learned, among other things, that we Catholics were reluctant subjects of the British crown and that Britain controlled Northern Ireland by skillful use of the tried and tested colonialists’ policy – divide and rule.

There were many poverty-stricken Protestants in this cricked neck of the woods but the crumbs that were doled out to them were slightly less derisory than the ones we Catholics got. And those same Protestants were programd by their politicians to believe that all Catholics were intent on breaking the sacred connection with Britain by foul means. So it was to be expected that the occasional uprisings by rebellious natives – freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on your point of view – were used by cunning Unionist politicians at opportune times to fire their people up. This meant that even when there was a prolonged period of peace the terrorist threat was resurrected and paraded, especially before elections.

And so the two traditions lived in an uneasy, sometimes violent, state of mutual distrust. This had been set in stone by the actions of the Northern Ireland government, put in place by the British in 1921 at Belfast City Hall, later moving to an imposing establishment called Stormont Castle. The first prime minister here was James Craig who championed what he called “a Protestant Government for a Protestant people” (this in a state where one third of the population was Catholic). To prevent the possibility of Catholics here outvoting and outbreeding their Protestant neighbors a form of gerrymandering was put in place and this, added to job discrimination, forced many Catholics to emigrate. These measures ensured unbroken Unionist rule for almost fifty years.

But then came 1968 and the change in the times blown to our shores from both east and west. Inspired by the Prague Spring and African American freedom movements (among others), a husband and wife team – Conn and Patricia McCluskey – started the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. The protest marches were often blocked by Unionist counter demonstrators, sometimes aided and abetted by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and all this set in train a seemingly inexorable series of events that eventually led to nearly thirty years of terrible bloodshed.

The events in
The Wake (And What Jeremiah Did Next)
took place before the worst of the violence got under way in this distressful country of ours. I suppose those early events could be described as the genesis of the Troubles. In the first half of my novel I record the chatter among a motley collection of two-faced characters gathered at an Irish wake for a dead woman that none of them liked. I use the word record because what I have written is, I think (and hope), a faithful representation of many an Irish wake I’ve dropped into, where I have both smiled and frowned at comic innuendo and barefaced slander from the so-called mourners. And when the whiskey was produced, well, that was when they got down to the explosive subjects of religion and politics.

And so to the second half. Here things turn serious – for Jeremiah that is, chief mourner of the nasty neighbor that his mother insisted on waking. Jeremiah is Catholic, conservative and guilt-ridden on account of his relationship with a beautiful bisexual called Aisling O’Connor and shortly before the wake has thrown her over to salve his conscience – only to find that he cannot live without her. Aisling is everything that Jeremiah is not – feisty and radical, angry and politically committed. But when he looks for her she is gone. And the only way to find her is to join civil rights marches and hope that somehow he can spot her. The fact that he may be risking life and limb doesn’t occur to him. But then he’s deeply, hopelessly in love and love of course is a crazy thing.

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