Keith Ridgway

Life
1965- ; b. Dublin; one-time bass player in Friends of the Family group; contrib. short fiction to a Faber anthology, 1997; issued Horses (1997), a novella; The Long Falling (1998), a story collection and winner of both the Prix Femina Étranger and the Premier Roman Étranger, 2001; Standard Time (2001), a novella; won the “Suspended Sentence” residency in Sydney and Beijing, 2002;

issued The Parts (2003), a mystery novel revolving around drug-culture in Dublin, issued Animals (2006), concerning an illustrator who has lost his way and sees animals everywhere around him; issued Hawthorn & Child (2012), a detective novel which obliquely captures the multifaceted darkness of modern times; he has taken the Rooney Prize in 2001 and 2004; Ridgway is widely regarded as an oblique, mordant and incisive writer, underrated in Ireland; read an essay on fiction/narrative in our lives, together with an interview on Ian McMillan’s “The Verb”, with Ben Marcus, Chistopher Green (BBC3, 16.04.2013).

There is a Keith Ridgway website.

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Works
  • Standard Time (London: Faber & Faber 2001);
  • Horses (London: Faber & Faber, 1997) [also available as BBc audiobook at Torrent - online];
  • The Long Falling (London: Faber & Faber; NY: Houghton Mifflin 1998);
  • The Parts (London: Faber & Faber 2003), 457pp.;
  • Animals (London: Fourth Estate 2006), 271pp.
  • Hawthorn & Child (London: Granta 2012), 288pp.
Miscellaneous
  • contrib. “Grid Work” [story], in Arrows in Flight: Stories from a New Ireland, ed. Caroline Walsh (Dublin: TownHouse; UK & US: Scribner 2002), pp.291-308;
  • contrib. “Kissing” to Silver Threads of Hope, ed. Sinéad Gleeson (Dublin: New Island Press 2012) [stories in aid of Console, suicide prevention charity].
Reviews [incl.]
  • ‘Rocky’s Rockin’ Record’, review of The Last of the Baldheads, by Ferdia Mac Anna, in The Irish Times (18 Dec. 2004), Weekend, p.11 [see extract];
  • review of Tenderloin, by John Butler, in The Irish Times (28 May 2011), Weekend, p.13 [see extract].
  • ‘A Blasket bore’, review of The Islander, by Tomás O’Crohan, trans. by Garry Bannister & David Sowby, in The Irish Times (13 Oct. 2012), Weekend Review, p.12 [see extract].

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Criticism
Michael Kerrigan, reviewing The Parts, in Times Literary Supplement (7 Feb. 2002), p.21 [see extract]; Derek Hand, review of The Parts, in Derek Hand, review of The Parts, in The Irish Times (18 Jan. 2003) [see extract]; Shane Hegarty, ‘Just parts of the story’, interview with Keith Ridgway, in The Irish Times (24 Jan. 2003) [see extract]; Scarlett Thomas, review of Hawthorn & Child, in The Guardian (11 July 2012) [see extract]; Killian Fox, review of Hawthorn & Child, in The Observer (29 July 2012) [see extract].

See interview on “Open Book”on BBC4 (26 Jan. 2003), in conjucntion with The Long Falling and The Parts as books of the week - available as .ram [accessed 14.04.2013];

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Commentary
Michael Kerrigan, reviewing The Parts, in Times Literary Supplement (7 Feb. 2002), writes: ‘That we are shaped and constructed, by our stories has become a commonplace of fiction; key to Keith Ridgway’s originality as a novelist is his recognition of just how uninterested in one another’s narratives we actually are. Ridgway’s third novel, The Parts, surveys a society that never quite amounts to a whole, however vast and complex it may appear. Defining Dublin at one point as a “plural proper noun”, the novel refuses to recognise its integrity as a single thing, seeing it instead as the momentary conjunction of myriad separate lives.’ (p.21.) Gives a full account of the plot and treatment, and concludes: ‘Ridgway’s Ireland is distinctly different, with few of the trappings we have come to expect of Irish literature: no politics, no myth, no Church, no scenery to speak of. His Dubliners are different too, living lives of endless possibility - hardly the history-haunted race to whom we have grown accustomed down the years. Unencumbered by land-line connections, heedless of city limits and national borders, they make person-to-person calls on their mobile phones. Citizens of the World Wide Web, unconstrained by background, unfettered by origins, they are at liberty to be themselves [...]. But where one identity is as good as another, sense of an essential individuality is lost, and with it the (perhaps illusory) feeling of trajectory, of progress which articulated earlier lives. Theirs is thus a perilous existence, its pleasures and its loyalties fleeting, and one for which a certain real heroism is required. A prophet, but no Jeremiah, Keith Ridgway sees the superficiality of contemporary culture, yet he sees too the opportunities it brings. Bleak as its vision is in so many respects, this is a novel that simply bursts with energy and incidentt, with a crowded cast of vivid characters and some enormously enjoyable comic scenes. In that respect one might conclude that The Parts is its own happy ending, a ringing affirmation of our ability to find something in each other’s stories - at when they are so ebulliently well told.’ (p.21.)

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Derek Hand, review of The Parts, in Derek Hand, review of The Parts, in The Irish Times (18 Jan. 2003), Weekend: ‘All of Keith Ridgway’s writing thus far has managed to brilliantly combine the somewhat fantastic with the seemingly mundane. This forces his readers to rethink the comfortable reality they think they know so well. / Once again in this novel, beneath the veneer of plot and action, he manages to create characters shot through with pulsating authenticity. Ridgway’s crystalline prose opens up wonderful moments of powerful perception and reflection for the reader. He has the ability to dissect gloriously the foibles of Celtic Tiger Dublin or, rather, as we are told, the cities of Dublin - with the stress very much on the plural. / [...] Modern Irish life as portrayed here consists of trivialities and insignificance. The media is seen as utterly self-contained, having no real impact beyond itself. Technology, too, as embodied in the Internet and the ubiquitous mobile phone, demonstrates how objects supposedly designed to aid communication and connection can actually exacerbate dislocation and alienation. People no longer have to be grounded in any one specific space or, indeed, identity. Contemporary Dublin thus becomes a place where one can be whoever one wants to be. And yet, all seem to be unable to fully engage with those possibilities, as if lost amid the numerous roles offered them. Kez, the real hero of the novel, realises that power and control come from perspective or the knowledge that perspective may bring. Nevertheless, he too almost loses himself among the many aliases and identities he has created. His story, and thus the novel’s main focus, is one reduced to one of basic survival. / This is a novel remarkably mindful of its own status as a text: that is, as a thing made up of signs and dots and words. [...] The result, in the end, is a compelling novel, multifaceted and multi-layered, with voices and stories jostling on the page, vying for our attention. They get it and keep it. [...]’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, Reviews, infra.)

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Shane Hegarty, ‘Just parts of the story’, in The Irish Times, 24 Jan. 2003), quotes: “Most of the things I write tend to be character driven. I didn’t set out to write anything specifically about Dublin. It’s inevitable that if you take a character and set them in Dublin that they are going to say something about how Dublin is. But that isn’t what I set out to do, and I think that I wasn’t so concerned about getting things accurate to the point where I’d get frustrated by where people might drink or whatever.” (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, Reviews, via index, or attached.)

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Eileen Battersby, ‘Making Sense of Good and Evil’, review of Hawthorn & Child, in the Irish Times (21 July 2012), Weekend Review: ‘[...] Ridgway, who was born in Dublin in 1965, has always been different, original and surprisingly undercelebrated. He impressed with his novella Horses (1997), which was followed within a year by his first novel, The Long Falling. His stories in Standard Time (2001) range from the very good to the excellent, while The Parts (2003), a multilayered comic thriller, took on Celtic tiger Dublin and left the city and the reader reeling. The novel casts a long, dark and compelling shadow, the influence of which echoes through Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies (2010) / Ridgway is a fearless though subtle confronter. He takes on the business of making sense of things. It is marvellously ironic that, having written that great Dublin novel, he has now written an edgy and profound London narrative, the type Martin Amis delivered in The Information (1995) yet failed to nail in the recent Lionel Asbo. / Where Ridgway succeeds time and again is that he never forces a joke or an image. [...] It all goes back to the core values of Ridgway’s writing, the ease of his prose style, its fluidity and his mastery of characterisation and dialogue. [...] Read Hawthorn Child. Better still read it twice: it’s that real, that good, that true.’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, Reviews, via index, or attached.)

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Scarlett Thomas, review of Hawthorn & Child, by Keith Ridgway, in The Guardian (11 July 2012): ‘Hawthorn and Child are just as likely to be eating breakfast in a café in the background of someone else’s story as they are to function as protagonists.[...] Ridgway’s best compositions can be breathtakingly unpredictable, as in the excellent chapter that juxtaposes policing a demonstration with having group-sex in a sauna. Hawthorn, the gay detective who cries often and for no reason, is at the heart of both these confusing and arousing encounters. In among all this is a disturbing, but brilliantly weird, anecdote about the death of a fat man. At his best, Ridgway is unapologetically strange. (Is there a secret band of wolves in London?) And the writing is perfectly assured and elegant. “Then Hawthorn looked back at him. Held his eyes. For exactly the amount of time it takes for a look like that to become a look like that.” Elsewhere, “People trickled out of the tube station like beads of sweat.” / But then there’s the really dark stuff [...]’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, Reviews, via index, or attached.)

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Killian Fox, review of Hawthorn & Child, by Keith Ridgway, in The Observer (29 July 2012): ‘A young man has been shot on a city street at night by an unknown assailant.[...] / Instead of returning to the original case, the narrative spirals outwards to investigate other lives that connect, however tangentially, with the two detectives. These stories become increasingly bizarre. A publisher receives a manuscript about a gang of wolves fighting for dominance over a sort of parallel London; his attempts to decipher it lead him to the margins of the city and his own sanity. Many of the characters here are disturbed, delusional and potentially dangerous to themselves and anyone else. / This is a detective novel in which the mysteries of people’s lives threaten to overshadow mysteries born of criminal activity. [...] The most persistent mystery, in a book filled with unlikely tales, has to do with the reliability of the narrative itself. Is the novel a collective fantasy, a series of elaborate delusions? Is it all an extension of Hawthorn’s dream in the opening pages? No clear answers are forthcoming, but that doesn’t make the novel any less engaging.“Knowing things completes them. Kills them,” says the publisher.“They fade away, decided and over and forgotten. Not knowing sustains us.” This unusual detective story takes the wisdom of his observation on board, and runs with it.’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, Reviews, via index, or attached.)

See also Declan Burke's Crimealwayspays blogspot quoting Darragh MacManus (Irish Independent, 21 July 2012) and Eileen Battersby (The Irish Times, 21 July 2012) on Ridgway's new novel - online.

Darragh MacManus
‘Ridgway's new book, Hawthorn & Child, is strange, unsettling, fragmented, confusing, at times dreamlike (these are all good things, by the way). You won't find sentimental stories of Irish emigrants here, nor self-flagellating clichés about dysfunctional families. []
  ‘The story, or rather stories, concern two London policemen, the titular detectives Hawthorn and Child. It opens with them being called to a shooting, but this is just the beginning for a series of incidents both violent and tender, strange occurrences, stranger characters, shifts in time, shifts in perspective, shifts in tone and tempo.
  ‘The different threads are connected, but tenuously so, though of course this is deliberately done: it's not as if Ridgway has lost control of his own stories.
  ‘The book makes the reader work hard, much like its two heroes: sifting through the facts, piecing together clues, trying to shape a cohesive narrative out of seemingly random bits of information. And it's all the more satisfying for that.’ [See at review - online.]
Eileen Battersby
‘Hawthorn & Child is a working partnership of two very different policemen. Together they patrol a seething present-day, utterly tangible London by car [...] It is a novel of contrasts: darkness and light. The daily and mundane balanced against the sheer hell of evil. One man, who is good with accounts, has secured an easy life admittedly working for a gangster but then he finds himself pinned under a car that could fall on him. Elsewhere a baby who is about to be rescued is thrown down a stairs. A woman who lives in a neat, spacious flat hangs herself over a cooker while the gas rings burn her from beneath.’  [See review - online.]

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Quotations
Fiction
The Parts
(rent-boy Kez:) ‘He saw men come, many men, many times, weakly and strongly, loudly, quietly, naked, clothed, slowly, quickly, all opposites, every kind, and he thought that the world might be that moment, nothing else, just the muted spasm and the milky way, and he thought that there were probably millions. Millions of men. Millions of women. Millions of worlds, of Dublins, of him.’ Further, ‘[He believes] that eventually he’d meet every man in Dublin. That they’d all come see him sooner or later - in Dublin he ought that you were always just one step way from knowing everyone.’ (All quoted in Michael Kerrigan, reviewing The Parts, in Times Literary Supplement, 7 Feb. 2002, p.21.)

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Reviews
Coming of age in a bubble’, review of The Tenderloin by John Butler, in The Irish Times (28 May 2011): ‘[...] There is in The Tenderloin  a shorter and better book fighting to get out. Much as there is a sharper, more relaxed Evan struggling to emerge from the annoying and uptight suburban Dublin boy whom you will spend most of this book wanting to slap. / Butler does some things beautifully. He writes well about the undulating environment of San Francisco. There is a marvellous section set in a records office where Evan temps for a while. The dialogue rings true, as do the distinctive minor characters, and there are a couple of memorable set pieces: a slightly predictable one involving an ice sculpture, and a great uneasy escapade on Sam Couples’s boat. / The ending (ignoring the epilogue), which comes when we get back to that mysterious ride in the Land Rover, is terrific. And it suggests that Butler has a real instinct for writing about the derailed ego and those mortifying moments of absurd crisis that hit the reader like a dreadful painful whack on the funny bone.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or attached.)

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A Blasket bore’ - review of The Islander, by Tomás O’Crohan, trans. by Garry Bannister & David Sowby, in The Irish Times (13 Oct. 2012), Weekend Review, p.12: ‘O’Crohan was asked for this book by people who called at his door a fact that shapes it and ultimately, I suspect, smothers it. [...] / It would be wrong perhaps, anachronistic, to expect an autobiography of emotions, even if the lack of them is startling. But we hear nothing about his beliefs either. There is no politics other than a smug dismissal of Home Rule on the basis that the Blaskets have never had anything else. There is no religion, apart from the formulaic invocations that punctuate every page. There is no sense whatsoever of curiosity about a wider world. The US, interestingly, is repeatedly disparaged as a terrible place “the country of blood and sweat and toil”. O’Crohan gets about his business. He goes fishing again. There’s another storm. We get three or four pages on the trouble they have getting a catch in, and a couple of lines on the death of another child. [...] / And I can only think of those linguists and anthropologists sitting in Tomás O’Crohan’s house, asking him to write down the facts of his life for them. And he spending a few hours every week giving them whatever seemed to please. And I can imagine him, and I really hope this is true, going out of his house then and being a far fuller person than this book suggests.’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or attached.)

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Notes
Animals (2006): ‘A novel of confusion and paranoia, love and doubt, fear and hysteria: unsettling, unhinged, provocative and bestially funny, Animals is for human beings everywhere. Keith Ridgway’s third novel is a psychological menagerie of confusion, paranoia, searching and love. Narrated by an illustrator who can no longer draw, it tells of the sudden and inexplicable collapse of a private life, and the subsequent stubborn search for a place from which to take stock. We are surrounded here - by unsafe or haunted buildings, by artists and capitalists who flirt with terror, by writers and actresses and the deals they have made with unreality, and by the artificial, utterly constructed, scripted city in which we have agreed to live out a version of living. But there are cracks in the facade, and there are stirrings under the floorboards, and there are animals everywhere you look, if only you'd dare to look for them. Unsettling, unhinged, provocative and richly funny, Animals is for human beings everywhere.’ (See COPAC - online; accessed 30.10.2012.)

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Hawthorn & Child (London: Granta 2012), ‘The two protagonists of the title are mid-ranking policemen operating amongst London's criminal classes, but each is plagued by dreams of elsewhere and, in the case of Hawthorn, a nightlife of visceral intensity that sits at odds with his carefully-composed placid family mask but has the habit of spilling over into his working life as a policeman. Ridgway has much to say, through showing not telling, about male violence, crowd psychology, the borders between play and abuse, and the motivations of policemen and criminals. But this is no humdrum crime novel. Ridgway is writing about people whose understanding of their own situations is only partial and fuzzy, who are consumed by emotions and motivations and narratives, or the lack thereof, that they cannot master. He focuses on peripheral figures to whom things happen, and happen confusingly, and his fictional strategies reflect this focus, so that his fictions themselves have an air of incompleteness and frustration about them. It’s a high-wire act for a novelist but one that commands attention and provokes the dropping of jaws.’ (See COPAC - online; accessed 30.10.2012.)

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Roddy Doyle: Doyle remarks that Irish writers have been slow to deal with the changes of the past decade, although he believes that Keith Ridgway The Parts is ‘quite brilliant’ in its depiction of contemporary Dublin. (Q. source.)

Ecrire l’Europe/Writing Europe (2003), the Franco-Irish Literary festival, Dublin Castle (chaired by Michael Cronin); invited Irish authors incl. Keith Ridgway, Evelyn Conlon, Peter Fallon, Moya Cannon, Colm Tóibín.

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