Author Mike McCormack on his latest book, critics’ misconceptions

Judah Duke, Business Editor

Irish writer Mike McCormack spoke to an audience of Baruch College students and faculty about his writing experience and the inspirations behind his book “Solar Bones” at an event sponsored by the English Department and the Harman Writer Program on April 19.

The novel won the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize and the 2018 International Dublin Literary Award. It was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

The informal discussion lacked most of the platitude characteristics of rehearsed monologues and premeditated answers that authors commonly dispense during such talks. McCormack went on tangents about his childhood, his new projects and encouraged questions from the audience. About 40 people attended the hour-long spiel on the 12th floor of the Newman Vertical Campus.

“McCormack is one of the best Irish novelists at work right now,” Professor Mary McGlynn, Acting Deputy Executive Officer for Placement of the CUNY Graduate Center English program — and the event’s organizer — said.

“His presentation resembled his beautiful novel, conversational, funny, and moving — he manages to take his audience through complex ideas and aesthetic forms in ways that make them feel accessible.”

But the talk also revealed more about the thematic motivations behind the work, and more than what critics have bothered to consider since publication.

“Solar Bones” has been lauded for its technical experiment as one continuous, unbroken sentence — except that it isn’t.

It doesn’t begin with a capital letter, nor does it end in a full stop.

“This is what everyone talks about as the technical experiment at the heart of the book,” McCormack said.

The novel follows the haunting inner monologue of Marcus Conway, a middle-aged engineer who reflects on his life, his family and the changing world around him, all in the small village of Louisburgh in rural Ireland. Conway eventually comes to describe every phase of life through his reminiscing.

It wouldn’t spoil the book to mention that Conway is really a ghost on All Saint’s Day, and his reflections are coming from beyond the grave.

Despite these highly acclaimed aberrations, McCormack still doesn’t consider them the most experimental aspects of the book. For him, it’s thematic.

“Try and pitch this in Hollywood: this is a story about a middle-aged white guy,” he said.

“No, there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s happy. He loves his wife. He has money, he has kids. That’s it. How do you make a novel out of that?”

There’s something to be said about the minimal success t hat comes from writing a novel that isn’t about anything — or at least, that’s how McCormack’s award-winning book was originally perceived by prospective publishers.

He struggled to find a publisher to take “Solar Bones,” saying that nobody thought it had any potential. But when the editors at Tramp Press read it, they immediately wanted it.

“Everything that everyone else had objected to, everything that everyone had moaned and griped and whined about, they loved,” he said.

While some parts are more concise than others, the vast majority of the book brings Conway’s rolling inflections to bear through its rambling and repetitive simplicity.

The thinly nuanced yet profound “Solar Bones” gives prominence to an eye-popping lack of formatting.  It’s analogous to a novel version of Rupi Kaur’s “milk and honey” if it were retooled for the middle-aged, the philosophy-waxing and the Irish.

McCormack once said that Irish fiction can be described as a “three-part harmony of experiment, comedy and metaphysics.”

When asked by The Ticker for an elaboration, McCormack explained that the question is one that his generation of Irish writers has generally shied away from. He said these writers saw Irish writing as synonymous with “a sort of realism that they themselves were practicing but didn’t want to acknowledge.”

But as for McCormack, he’s found the idea of being an Irish writer “hugely enabling.”

“Irish Writers Flann O’Brien, Samuel Becket and James Joyce are different in many ways, but they are united in spirit by a wish to progress the received tradition, to add something to it…” he said, referring to their tradition of experimental writing.

“I took that seriously. I thought, I’m an Irish writer, brilliant! That means I get to experiment. Not only do I get to experiment, it’s expected of me.”

As for that long, continuous sentence, McCormack referred to it as an “excerpt,” one that began “long before the book was opened.”

The take differs from the “long sentence” concept, mirroring the primary notion of impermanence at the core of the novel, ultimately reinforcing the transitory stance our existence inevitably assumes in the face of the divine.