Fiction – Kindle edition; Lilliput Press; 296 pages; 2011.
Lilliput Press, which is based in Dublin, is increasingly becoming my Irish publisher of choice. I’ve only read a handful of their books but I am yet to find a dud one. Kevin Casey’s State of Mind, first published in 2009, is no exception.
Set in rural Ireland
The story is set in Co. Wicklow in the 1970s and is loosely based on British author Frederick Forsyth’s experiences as a tax exile living in Ireland. Apparently Mr Forsyth upped sticks and moved back to the UK in 1980, because of kidnap fears.
In A State of Mind, the Forsyth character is played by Bill Cromer, a wealthy, best-selling author from England, who moves to Wicklow to take advantage of Ireland’s then tax-free concessions for those working in the creative industries. He brings his much younger German girlfriend, Ingrid, with him.
The story is not so much about Bill and Ingrid but about their neighbour, John Hughes, a former newspaper reporter, who turned his back on journalism to write novels — several of which were hugely successful and enabled him to buy a nice five-bedroom, two-bathroom house in the Wicklow countryside.
A serious case of writer’s block
But now John, who is the first person narrator of the story, is suffering a severe case of writer’s block. His wife Laura, who is an English-born radiographer, and his teenage daughter Rachael, don’t seem to mind that he now lives a life of “rural leisure and private desperation”.
It is the arrival of Bill and Ingrid into their rather sheltered community that unwittingly provides John with new material. The book opens with these fateful first lines: “This is an attempt to record the events of last summer. I want to understand what happened.”
Without giving away crucial plot spoilers, John begins an affair with Ingrid that has serious repercussions. As he jumps in and out of bed with her — taking advantage of his wife’s long commute to Dublin, his daughter’s absence at boarding school and Cromer’s trips back to the UK — there is more going on than meets the eye. Yes, he’s gathering material for his new book and finding out some painful truths about himself and his marriage, but he is also getting mired in something more dangerous: the local republicans have already marked Cromer as a target for blackmail and possible kidnap.
An understated, sexy thriller
A State of Mind is one of those rare books that defies classification, because it’s part sexy romance, part political thriller. It’s told in a very gentle, understated way, almost to the point of being flat, yet there’s something about the prose style — and the narrator’s limpid voice — that weaves a certain kind of spell. I found myself completely caught up in the story, wanting to know what was going to happen next. Was John going to get caught by his wife? Were the IRA going to bump him off as a case of mistaken identity? Would Ingrid call it quits?
There’s a lovely 1970s feel to the story too — it’s all cosy dinner parties, gin and tonics, and endless telephone calls on the landline — and setting it in Wicklow, among a small enclave of foreign writers, makes it even more intriguing. Lunch time visits to the pub will never be the same again!
Kevin Casey was once the Abbey Theatre’s youngest playwright. His novels include The Sinner’s Bell (1968), A Sense of Survival (1974) and Dreams of Revenge (1977). A State of Mind is his first book in more than 20 years.