This collection is a slow scramble to arrest that which is fast receding from memory and existence
In his truly compelling debut, Maleney has produced a collection of deeply personal essays that act as an atypical memoir of sorts. Located at the centre of Minor Monuments is John Joe, Maleney’s elderly grandfather, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. Spanning out from the circumstances of John Joe’s illness, Maleney finds cause to meditate on the evolving conditions of his life and that of his family. ‘By watching my grandparents fade, by listening to their lives and the lives of those around them, by watching my brothers grow up and leave in turn, I have been drawn back to a place which I recognise now as being on the edge of a disappearance.’ As such, much of the writing in this collection is a slow scramble to arrest that which is fast receding from memory and existence.
Maleney explores the landscapes of their home in rural Offaly. We are brought on a journey that weaves through its spaces and attendant sociality. One of the most striking examples of this interplay is to be found in Maleney’s exploration of the peat bog that borders his parent’s farm. As is typical of this collection, Maleney chooses not to approach his subject matter head-on, but instead through circuitous routes that happily engage pertinent works of art or critical theory. Indeed, the book’s opening essay skilfully produces a dialogue between an installation, Richard Skelton’s Landings, and a film, Silence by Pat Collins, which give Maleney space to articulate his experiences of recording the sounds of the bog, and, in doing so, he positions his own thesis: ‘Sound and silence are two sides of the same coin, a breeze blowing at different strengths. We cannot know in advance the voices which might be heard when the wind is low. Walking the bog, I am learning to listen to that wind, however it blows.’
Episodic though they are, there is a tendency for these discrete essays to become larger than the sum of their respective parts. Much of that is attributable to Maleney’s positioning of his grandfather within these writings. John Joe’s presence pulsates throughout the text, fading from sight, only to remerge, as Maleney’s investigations of his home, or greater abstract questions, thread back to, and become organised by, the idiosyncrasies of his grandfather’s progressing illness and declining memory. As a consequence, Maleney has managed to infuse a tight narrative coherency within these essays whereby each is coiled together by an exponential sense of grief and foreboding.
Certainly, they gather force and erupt into a crescendo during a final essay that ambitiously sketches out the body of an Alzheimer’s patient as an allegory for a broken node on a network of late-capitalist social relationships. The writing here is philosophically literate, yet the easy style of Maleney’s prose ensures that it never feels heavy handed. There are moments of real and true brilliance in this book.
Words: Darragh Deighan-Gregory