By John Toomey
When Albert Jackson, a middle-aged school teacher, catches a glimpse of the infinite universe and his own tiny insignificance he cannot shake himself free of regret for a life all but squandered. In a blind and demented attempt to salvage something from his life, he sets off, half-lucidly, on a libertine mission to reclaim life, to live it exclusively on his terms. But the wild and sinister crime he plots, so characterised by delusion, sets him on a path to irreversible destruction.
Incarcerated after his crime, at the once prestigious Reil Institute, and in a bid to make spiritual and cosmic amends, Albert Jackson employs the guile of a local novelist, Charlie Vaughan, to tell his story. In the telling of Albert’s story, Charlie drives the narrative onward and backward, forcing Albert to confront the horrors of his crime.
When the inadequacy of Albert’s initial confession forces Charlie to search further afield, he must cede control of the narrative to a range of other narrators too, among them key witnesses to the events leading up to Albert’s crime and a strange third-person account composed by Albert himself.
Slipping is a darkly humorous novel about life and love, ambition, bitter disappointment and the cost of committing the unforgivable.
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The Rashomon effect is at work in this anatomy of a small-town murder, with even the perpetrator offering more than one version of events.
Irish writer Toomey (Huddleston Road, 2012, etc.) plays with the sort of whodunit that reveals the who up front and goes on to explore the how and why. The book opens with a writer named Charlie Vaughan receiving a recorded first-person confession from the murderer, a schoolteacher named Albert Jackson, and a request to write a novel about his premeditated slaying of his wife. Jackson believes a fictional version derived from his testimony will help his children realize he is “not a monster.” The confession follows him through the actions of one day while his thoughts trace the course of a marriage that has deteriorated from love to annoyance to estrangement but perhaps not to bloody-minded revulsion. Toomey gives a detailed, persuasive view of an unsettled mind for which murder is far from the only recourse. The confession also reveals a self-absorbed and pompous man touched by a comic infatuation with another teacher. There’s something of Lucky Jim here in the way Jackson peppers his narrative with acerbic asides criticizing everyone around him. The book also includes witness accounts from a student, a teacher, a barista, and policemen, among others, as well as conversations with Jackson himself and his psychiatrist, both of whom allow Toomey to have some quasi-meta fun with the process of writing a book like the one he has written. The book indeed seems loosely built and rattles a bit structurally, as if the author hadn’t quite settled on one version of his tale. But don’t quit before the closing pages, a third-person account written by the murderer in response to Vaughan’s demands about six hours missing from his first testimony.
About the Author:
John Toomey is the author of two published novels, SLEEPWALKER and HUDDLESTON ROAD. He grew up in Dublin but went to university in London, where he then lived for five years. He now lives in Dublin where he teaches English at Clonkeen College.
His first novel, SLEEPWALKER, was published in Ireland by Somerville Press in July 2008. Dalkey Archive have since acquired the rights to SLEEPWALKER and their edition was published in the USA, UK and Ireland in 2010. John Toomey's second novel, HUDDLESTON ROAD, also published by Dalkey Archive, was published in 2012.
WHAT THE DYING HEART SAYS, a short story, was selected for inclusion in Dalkey Archive's BEST EUROPEAN FICTION 2015.
Toomey is aiming to do more than solve a mystery and achieves a psychologically intriguing, unnerving character study.
Pub Date: March 24th, 2017
Page count: 150pp Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2017
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By John Toomey