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Matthew Geden reviews Theo Dorgan's début novel





Matthew Geden

Born in England, Matthew Geden moved to Kinsale in 1990 and still lives in the town. He co-founded the SoundEye International Poetry Festival. His poems have appeared in several publications both at home and abroad including Something Beginning with P, Poets of the Millennium, The Backyards of Heaven and Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland. Lapwing published his Kinsale Poems as well as Autumn: Twenty Poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, translations from the French. His first full length collection, Swimming to Albania, was published by Bradshaw Books in 2009. A new collection, The Place Inside, was published by Dedalus in 2012.








Making Way

Making Way

Theo Dorgan

(New Island Press, 2013)

ISBN: 9781848402249

€14.99 paperback

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In sailing terminology making way refers to a vessel that is being propelled through the water; it is, like the characters in Theo Dorgan’s new novel, on a journey. Dorgan is no stranger to sailing and has written two fine prose books on voyages undertaken: Sailing for Home and Time on the Ocean. In both of these the journeys were made between two distinct geographical points, but Making Way is a novel and therefore has a more abstract remit in which the physical destination is relatively vague. Here the two protagonists, Tom and Clare, meet on a Sicilian quayside and embark together on a journey of friendship and love as they meander across the Mediterranean.


            The notion of life as a sea voyage is, of course, an ancient one and in literature there are numerous examples from Homer’s Odyssey right up to Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel The Life of Pi. Dorgan’s book focuses almost entirely on the two main characters developing a growing bond and trust between them. Tom is older, a musician who has recently lost the love of his life whilst Clare is a young lawyer looking forward to possible married life when she returns to Ireland. Their gradual relationship allows for long conversations about lost and found love while simultaneously creating a tension between the two as they become closer. Theirs is an unusual love story that raises more questions than answers or at least answers that don’t quite fit:

            “You believe in fate, Tom?” Holding her breath.

            “I had a band called FATE once, a long time ago.”

            So, humour becomes a means for both characters to diffuse the occasional intensity evident in their talks. They are tested too by a violent storm in which Clare proves to be a more than able sailing companion. Dorgan’s sailing knowledge gives passages such as this a clarity and practical know-how which are both powerful and convincing. His poet’s eye is never too far away either in phrases such as “the tactile pockets of shade” and “the smudge of Sardinia”.


            In many ways though it is the constant flickering between light and dark that gives this book its vitality. The regular transitions from day to night and back again remind the reader of the journey through life and of the days passing in rapid succession. Naturally, this is most keenly felt by Tom and more than once he recalls the line of one of Bob Dylan’s later classics from the Time Out of Mind album; “not dark yet, but it’s getting there”. Such moments are a reminder that the passage of time allows for one generation to make way for the other, giving the title another slightly altered meaning. As Tom’s generation shuffles into the shadows and Clare’s comes into the light there is a sense of nostalgia for a lost innocence in the world reflected in the musical references to Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Eartha Kitt, Sandy Denny and many more, and also a more hopeful time implied by a reference to the Carnsore festival. There are also a number of literary allusions smuggled surreptitiously into the text, enhancing rather than hindering the general flow of the novel.


            Although this is his first novel Dorgan is an experienced and confident writer with several collections of poetry and other books to his name. He demonstrates in Making Way that he can also sustain a story, even one where the plot is largely secondary to the thoughts and conversations as two people make their way through different points in their lives. This is a book about growing up, growing old, time passing, love and fate all propelled along by the choices made and the wind in the sails.


©2013 Matthew Geden



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