Skin Paper Stone by Máire T. Robinson
22nd Jun 2015
Skin Paper Stone is a touching narrative which focuses on the lives of two main characters. Stevie and Kavanagh are both approaching a crossroads in their lives, where comparisons with those around them become inevitable as they struggle to carve their own identity and meaning.
Stevie has just moved to Galway and is struggling with motivation during the first year of her mediaeval history PhD. From the beginning we are aware of Stevie’s insecurities, “For the first two weeks, she had hardly slept. Unwanted thoughts invaded her mind.” Crucially Stevie is coming to terms with a relationship she has left behind, “she felt huge relief, like shrugging off a wool coat, like she had been holding her breath without realising it.” Stevie appears incredibly vulnerable. As the pressure of her PhD research begins to overwhelm her, hints are made at her past and it becomes clear she has demons of her own to overcome. Stevie is an absorbing character, quite different in many ways to that of Joe Kavanagh.
Her path crosses with that of Kavanagh at a house party. Desperate to impress with a dodgy method for opening a bottle of red wine, he lands himself in hospital with his arm in a sling. An aspiring tattoo artist who dreams of something else, something better, Kavanagh is a drifter. Moseying through life, almost as if he is waiting for it to happen to him.
“Kavanagh saw his life as a line graph: a steady segment across the x-axis of MEH-MEH-MEH”
Despite dreams of returning to Thailand where “he had glimpsed the possibility of something different, something else”, his oftentimes frustratingly lack lustre approach means he is still in “this bottomless hole” of Galway, drifting and dreaming. Meanwhile pressure is also building on Kavanagh from the direction of Pajo, a drug dealer who likes everyone to know who is in charge. Pajo holds a strong dislike for Kavanagh, and you get the sense he is just biding his time, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce on Kavanagh.
Engaging dialogue is punctuated by hypnotic descriptions of the landscape with Robinson's narrative gliding through the landscape of Ireland's Galway - the seemingly endless Galway rain, the churning river and the Atlantic breezes.Robinson pulls the reader in to the lives of Stevie and Kavanagh in a pleasingly effortless manner. Switching the narrative focus back and forth between her two main protagonists, with carefully placed snippets from the perspective of friends and families whose lives they touch; the gentle lilt to the flow of her sentences ensures the reader quickly becomes absorbed in to their lives. Underneath the easy flow of those sentences Robinson delves in to the psyche of her characters. The constant comparison with friends – those jetting off to far flung places, marrying, having kids – is a pressure constantly punctuating the consciousness of both Kavanagh and Stevie. Each of them, plus the minor characters of Alex and Jacqui, are struggling to carve their own way, their own direction in life.
“An Atlantic breeze whistled though the laneways, and the drizzly rain carried the smell of a lost day at the seaside.”
From here we are taken to drug-fuelled parties, historically-focused ventures & cosy pub evenings with long lost friends. Galway is presented as a town with many layers, many depths, a place easy to disappear into its folds.
Skin Paper Stone, populated with intriguing characters and set against the backdrop of the atmospheric Galway, is an engaging début from a promising new Irish voice.