Cells: Memories for My Mother

Anthony Cummins in The Guardian:

The Irish writer Gavin McCrea was supposed to be writing the third in a loose trilogy of novels about the development of communism, following Mrs Engels (2015), told in the voice of Friedrich Engels’s Irish wife, Lizzie Burns, and The Sisters Mao (2021), set in China and London during the 60s and 70s. By his own account in an interview last year, the next book will run from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the 2008 financial crash. But it got put on hold when, in February 2020, McCrea was the target of homophobic street violence while walking home. The painful memories that the attack stirred brought the structure of a memoir pouring out of him during a late-night writing session and he had no choice but to carry on.

Cells opens when McCrea returns to Dublin from a spell living abroad late in 2019. The advent of the pandemic adds an unforeseen dimension to his decision to stay and look after his widowed mother, a former care home worker who is becoming increasingly forgetful; under locked-down chit-chat about crosswords and vegetarian meals, he seethes with unlanced resentment that she didn’t do more when he was the victim of homophobic bullying at high school in the 1990s.
McCrea divides the narrative into seven episodes ranging fluently in time via nested memories told with reference to psychoanalysis (“According to Carl Jung… As Freud says…”) and art (the title refers, among other things, to Louise Bourgeois’s work of the same name). He writes with arresting precision, whether he’s introducing us to his mother’s flat (“There are 15 steps up, covered in an old carpet of beige, mauve, burgundy, and blue stripes… After six steps, I am in the seating area, which consists of three ill-matching bits of furniture”) or recounting a recurring dream about wetting himself in the presence of his agent’s son.

More here.