Eggshells by Caitriona Lally—a review.

I never know how to respond to people who want small complete sentences with one tidy meaning. I can’t explain myself to people who peer out windows and think they know the world.

 

So says Vivian, the narrator of Eggshells, a poignant novel about what it means to walk on the margins of our world. And how much you believe in her credo above will largely dictate your response to Lally’s novel. If you are looking for “one tidy meaning,” walk on. If you are looking for a narrator who sees the world slant, who compulsively lists the names for things, whose daily forays around Dublin in search of secret portals and social interaction inevitably end in failure, walk with Vivian and her new friend Penelope.

Vivian is mad, crazy, convinced she is a changeling, broken, isolated, vexing, annoying—she is every hygenically-challenged person you’ve ever avoided on public streets and transportation. But like Ray in Sara Baume’s magisterial Spill Simmer Falter Wither, Vivian sees the world in angles and dimensions the rest of us generally fail to: the earned perspective of a social isolate who has not stopped observing. People walking on the margins, fragile and largely forgotten—people whose attempts at human interaction largely falter because their perceptions of life are drawn to a different scale, people whose sense of language rings with half-notes and microtones inaudible to most.

Though heartbreaking, Vivian’s loneliness is also filled with whimsy and heroism; she can’t go on, but she goes on. Eggshells hints, toward the end, at causal factors for Vivian’s isolation, but those in search of cause and effect have missed the point of Lally’s novel. Or so I think, having peered into the window of Vivian’s world and left seeing our own a bit more slant.

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