In Ordinary Time by Carmel Mc Mahon: A provocative yet brilliant map of grief, hurt, and love
Describing Carmel Mc Mahon’s debut non-fiction collection as a memoir feels too limited in one term. In Ordinary Time: Fragments of Family History is a layered and engaging collection of essays that question and challenge the very idea of what exactly constitutes a life. Across four sections — each named after a season of the Celtic year, Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain — Mc Mahon outlines events and events in her personal history and finds them tied to the past. , both modern and ancient, cannot be changed.
shortlisted for the Hennessy Literary Prize and published on Irish Times And Roanoke ReviewsMc Mahon returned to Ireland to live on the west coast after more than two decades in New York.
in normal time is an excellently constructed book. On my first reading, I followed the usual route from start to finish and while this certainly wasn’t wrong, the book was exceptionally non-linear and on my second reading I jumped back and forth. essays on addiction, grief, love, and disease and marvel at Mc Mahon’s ability to craft intricate and personal stories, finding connections to the collective across time and space. To read it, is to sit with the past, future and present at the same time.
In this collection, Mc Mahon reminds us that our lives are the result of a collective experience that is both subtle and traumatic. Our days, even the most ordinary, are formed by all the days that have come before; Our bodies were formed by the bodies that came before us. This connective tissue is an umbilical cord that cannot be severed, to do so is to ignore the fact that we are creatures created by a complex system, our souls forged by jostling. push and disturb of human life with all its injustice, sadness and beauty.
During my time in Mc Mahon’s work, I was reminded of Heaney’s poem Smithy and the evocative opening: “All I know is a door into the dark.”
Opening in normal time at any page is to open that door into the dark. Heaney writes: “The anvil must be somewhere in the center… Set there motionless: an altar where he devotes himself to form and music.”
I envision Mc Mahon’s writing process as an analogous ballet of precision, labor, and instinct. Her essays are filled with narratives, drawing rigorous historical and political research along with the fearless vulnerability of her personal story.
In her opening essay, she writes about Magdalene Laundries – where her mother, who discovered she was unmarried and pregnant in 1966, would most likely have been detained had she not come to London and “began to love the child within her, more than herself.” Love yourself”.
Mc Mahon was a young woman when the last laundromat closed. “This is not ancient history,” she wrote. “And the time that has passed since then has only had the effect of bringing me closer to it, asking me to see it more clearly, to feel its terror more fully in the marrow of my bones.” Many of us turn our backs on exactly the same horrors that Mc Mahon relied on to find his place in the world.
Mc Mahon writes about the need to understand her mother in order to better understand herself, and throughout the book, this investigation extrapolates a dedicated dig into the country and broader culture. produced both.
Mc Mahon describes finding a way to write poetry at a school, where there was only one prescribed female writer, who wasn’t even included in the curriculum.
“Now we say, If you can see it, you can be it. We saw the young mothers in the neighborhood dragging, old and dull, walking through the supermarket… my mother stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window at some lost horizon, while we tore apart destroy the house around her.”
Time and again, gender and class ties have stymied Mc Mahon because it has her mother and indeed their ancestors. It was the 1990s. She wanted to go to college but it was a “far-fetched idea”. She describes working in a clothing store on Grafton Street where all the women talk about wanting to get married. She eventually immigrated to New York – an Irish tradition. After years of her titular “normal time”, she worked as a waitress and modeled, loved and wrote, she lost her little brother – describing him in a poignant sentence as the “baby”. convulsing from laughing in the crib”. Her alcoholism took hold after this devastating loss: “The first sip slid down my throat and went deep into my soul.”
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‘Normal time’ is the name given to part of the liturgical calendar but it is also reminiscent of Joan Didion’s “ordinary moment” in Five magical thoughts. “Life changes in an instant. Ordinary moment,” wrote Didion.
Mc Mahon and Didion have a lot in common. They share a forensic curiosity about our culture and the clear, detached style of their prose. Mc Mahon’s writing is both accurate and provocative.
From the details of the horrific car crash that killed her sister Michelle at the age of 5: “Some local men were ordered to hold my mother”; to describe her disturbed brother attacking her parents and going to the pub, where “he ordered a pint, sat down with his bloody hands, and drank it down” — Mc Mahon arranges facts and details in free and restrained prose, her elegance and simplicity in language allowing obvious horror to bloom on the page.
The flexibility of time is a running theme in normal time. “Grief changes time…” Mc Mahon wrote of the aftermath of her brother’s death. “You no longer roll along… You stand still and watch everything else go by.”
Meanwhile, time and pain pair up in a compelling essay On the Dark Side of the Head in which Mc Mahon describes a migraine that began to haunt her as she began to recover from alcoholism at the age of 36. Mc Mahon found an interesting perspective on the problem of illness. “When we are sick, we lie on our stomachs. No longer responsible for the rigors of marching time… instead of fighting to stay upright, we can surrender and allow the mysteries that lie beneath the mundane things of our lives to unfold and reveal.”
Mc Mahon’s ability to surrender and explore is what gives in normal time its incredible range. From the Brehon family to famine survivors to survivors of her own personal tragedies, Mc Mahon charts the meanings and connections to create a brilliant map of the world. pain, hurt, beauty and love. in normal time is an enchanting work strung with rich history and heart.
Non-Fiction: In Ordinary Time by Carmel Mc Mahon
Duckworth, 286 pages, hardcover, €23.80; eBook £8.99
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/book-reviews/in-ordinary-time-by-carmel-mc-mahon-a-provocative-yet-dazzling-map-of-grief-trauma-and-love-42325374.html In Ordinary Time by Carmel Mc Mahon: A provocative yet brilliant map of grief, hurt, and love