In Solar Bones Marcus Conway looks at his life: present and past are linked to each other in one long sentence lasting over 250 pages. Somewhere around page 40 I started wondering whether this long sentence really did add something to the novel. I found reading without visual breaks rather tiresome.
In this single sentence we jump from topic to topic, it is clear that McCormack has gone for stream of consciousness – but in a rather structured way. Whilst the novel starts with short phrases shooting from topic to topic, gradually the paragraphs get longer and longer. The fragments of Conways memory turn from shards to entire passages.
In those passages Conways mind does not somersault, he – a civil engineer – turns out to be a rather linear thinker. Those paragraphs in which he describes his own work working for the county or of the opening of his daughter’s exposition he narrates in a straight way from start to finish. I wonder whether McCormack thought to emphasise Conways civil engineer character in this way (sorry, I know, slight prejudice).
The effect of the more linear thinking is that one is not sucked into the novel, as for instance did happen with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. McCormack keeps his readers at a distance, making me wonder whilst reading whether this one sentence was absolutely necessary? A more classical structure especially in combination with McCormack’s beautiful phrasing and contemplating might have worked as well.
I started doubting in the final pages, when McCormack has Conway die of a heart attack during some six pages. Then I figured that the one sentence could be the equivalent of having one’s life pass in one’s mind before dying. The more chaotic way of writing at the start could be because the novel starts with Conway just having died, which could be a valid reason for having one sentence lasting an entire novel.
Did McCormack do his readers a pleasure by writing one sentence? Not me personally. I felt that the lack of white, the linearity of Conway and the longer more descriptive paragraphs did not add up together. They diminished the required effect of stream of consciousness. I am afraid McCormack would have made me happy with a more extreme version of his long sentence or by sticking to a more traditional structure. A slightly more chaotic main character might have helped.