Have you ever read a book all the way through and felt that you missed something really big? You get that unsettling feeling that perhaps the whole thing is one big allegory that you failed to get. Or maybe you were daydreaming through the crucial paragraph that knits the whole book together.
That’s the feeling I had after reading Long Time, No See. The quality of the writing was excellent throughout, and Dermot Healy spent 11 years writing this book, so I’m sure he had something important to say. But I just don’t know what it was. I enjoyed the lively writing, the well-drawn characters, the intriguing situations, but in the end it didn’t seem to lead to anything much. The characters didn’t seem to develop in any meaningful way, and the various mysteries in the plot were either left unresolved or were resolved in a way that felt like an anticlimax. For example the bullet hole in Joejoe’s window was just caused by him firing off his gun. There’s a lot of buildup and suspicion and then it was just an old man firing off his gun by mistake.
Again, maybe I’m missing something, but it felt as if the whole book was like that – plot points were developed just to the point where they had the potential to be interesting, and then were dropped. Mister Psyche grapples with the recent death of his friend in a car crash – or at least you expect him to, but he doesn’t really do much grappling. He’s just sad sometimes, and then he builds a wall. Perhaps the wall is symbolic, or perhaps it isn’t. Mister Psyche has an odd relationship with his girlfriend Anna, with hardly any emotion or affection and not much contact except by mobile phone. Again, we don’t find out why this is, and nothing much changes about it.
Perhaps Healy is trying to say that that’s how life really is, that it’s not that interesting or dramatic, that there is no neat or satisfying resolution, that events don’t have a point in the end. If so, he’s probably right about that, but it doesn’t make for a very engaging read. Or perhaps the characters and plot are developing in interesting ways, but it’s all so understated that I missed it. I don’t generally need, or want, to have everything spelled out for me, and nor do I need a nice neat resolution, but I like to have something happen and for it to a bit plainer than it was here.
My overall feeling about this book was that it was a beautifully written and intriguing (and very long!) setup for a great novel, but the story didn’t develop as I’d hoped it would.
Have you read this book? Did you like it? Did I miss the point? Have you read other stuff by Dermot Healy that you can recommend? Even though I didn’t like this book much, I can tell he’s a good writer, so would like to read something else by him. Let me know!