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Sudden Times [Hardcover]

Dermot Healy
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 Sep 1999
A psychological thriller about a man who leaves London and arrives in Sligo in Ireland only just clinging on to his sanity. In a bid to regain his equilibrium, he must embark on a journey to confront the experiences of his past. From the author of A GOAT'S SONG.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; First Edition. Hardback. Dust Jacket. edition (23 Sep 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860466729
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860466724
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.5 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,372,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Ollie Ewing has forgotten the thing that tells him who he is. The hero of Dermott Healey's Sudden Times has returned to Sligo to recover from "a few experiences" in London by laying low and listening to "complaints and sermons, jibes and asides" in his own head. Men are after him. A crowd of them. Or maybe not. He's in hiding, mostly from his own shame. His brother Redmond and his best friend Marty are dead. It seems as though Marty died in a labouring accident but as snippets of Ollie's scatty recollections cohere, it becomes apparent that Marty was murdered, left in the back of a lorry, in a pile of charred bones. Redmond too, was flown home from Luton in a coffin and it isn't until much later in the novel that the details of his manslaughter are revealed. The deaths haunt Ollie and people in the town can see the danger in his eyes. His attempts to reintegrate socially and mentally are slack, confused, painful and absurdly funny. He shifts from job to job, finally getting routine and acceptance as a trolley check-out in Doyle's supermarket. "You have to break out before you can learn the laws of the tribe. And you have to break inside before you can learn your true nature." Ollie is often uncertain of time or place and dislocation overtakes him without warning, throwing the narrative back to London, forward to France, while Ollie is too frightened to move far at all.

Healy's prose has ripping dialogue, an amiable grace and moments of great, uncomplicated tenderness for Ollie and his estranged father, who's holed up in a single room in Coventry, a burnt-out labourer, too poor, proud and done-in to travel home. In one of the most hilarious scenes in the book, Ollie and his father and "a posse of retired, low-slung Sligo and Mayo men" roam the Midlands looking for a fiddler from Gurteen and a "bit of crack". "It was the sort of thing my father would do, go searching for a man he couldn't find." Ollie is a man Ollie cannot find, and Healy excels at a compassionate portrait of the loss of self, with a fierce, resilient humour and a touching, vulnerable love for his characters. He works the paradoxes of pathos and tenacity beautifully. The climax of what happened to Ollie is irresistibly sinister and packed with sustained menace and Healy mines the particular tragedy that can befall the working class Irish in England with astute bleakness. --Cherry Smyth

Book Description

Dermot Healy's highly acclaimed novel, now in a stunning new package --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning in its raw power. 26 Oct 2003
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Unlike many other Irish novels, this one draws its power from its simplicity, rather than from lush description or the accumulation of details. Stripping language to the bare bones here, Dermot Healy draws the reader directly into the mind of the main character, Ollie Ewing, without artifice or embellishment.
Ollie has just returned to Sligo, almost mute with shock from terrible events which have befallen him while in London, and his voice reflects both his trauma and loss. He talks to the reader in quiet, almost confessional tones, using unadorned, simple language to describe things he sees that are not there and voices he hears that no one else can hear. Never wasting a word, his earnest, narrative whispers force the reader to share his thoughts while interpreting his state of mind.
Ollie's almost paralyzing experiences in London-protection rackets on construction sites, goons who act with impunity, murders accepted as part of the game, and a judicial system more geared to fancy talk than to simple statements of truth-all catch the reader up in a whirlwind of emotions. Ollie's plaintive voice, crying out from all this, will echo long in the reader's mind. And this remarkable achievement by an author with total control may echo even longer. Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
in Ollie Ewing Dermot Healy has created a character that you want to help, punch, guide, shake, feel sympathy for and scream at all at once. A truly memorable book, which reminds me much of The Butcher boy. This book will stay with you for a long time.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ollie Innocent and the terrible English 3 Jun 2012
Format:Hardcover
The narrator, Ollie, is suffering from various mental problems exacerbated by voluntary as well as involuntary intakes of drugs. In the first half of the novel we find him returning from London to his native Sligo in Ireland, where his own confused narrative is made even more muddled by the locals speaking a kind of English that isn't really "sloppy", as some reviewers have claimed, just a strong dialect. The author's decision to leave out speech marks does its best to add to the intentional lack of clarity. Furthermore, Ollie has flashbacks to his time in London and some nasty experiences that are only very vaguely hinted at. Clearly, the intention is to build up some dramatic tension, but it really only works as an annoyance that distracts from what is otherwise a friendly and humorous description of a local Irish community full of sweet, quirky and rather innocently dysfunctional people, as the Irish like to see themselves.

Many Irish people also like to see the English as a bunch of crooks and bandits, who know nothing better than to harass and discriminate against Irish citizens. Such images dominate the second part of the novel, a long flashback where Ollie, then in his early or mid twenties, travels to late 1980s London to find employment. He is drawn into a mysterious murder case and falls out with a gang of English brutes, led by a man called Silver John. Towards the end of the novel, at a costume party, Ollie's younger brother falls out with Silver John's bodyguard Scots Bob, and Scots Bob pours petrol over Ollie's brother and sets fire to him. Scots Bob, incidentally, isn't really a Scot (had he been, he would probably be all right), but has just lived there for some time and is now a dedicated enemy of all things Celt.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I have never read anything like this 5 Aug 2000
By taking a rest - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
One of the best books I have read this year is Jeffrey Lent's "In the Fall". So when I read the appraisal of this Author's work not only by Mr. Jeffrey Lent, but Roddy Doyle, and others, I thought the chance I was taking on an Author new to me was minimal. The man who wrote this book, Mr. Dermot Healy, has produced a work that will be on any short list of favorites from 2000 I will have. This book is unique and unconventional it is extraordinary. Some of the commercial commentators felt the need to go beyond what the jacket provides, and into events in the book. That decision was unnecessary, but thankfully it in no way detracts from the book. There are no simple explanations for this work, and were the story line known to you, because of the way Mr. Healy delivers his tale, little would be lost. This is a book that can be read and read again.
The book is written in the first person and that is about the only conventional aspect of it. The book is laid out in an eclectic manner. Actually it is presented in a bewildering pattern less structure that initially left me lost. Going back and reading a passage again does not help, because the subject of the book is lost, and the Author puts to paper the thoughts of what a person in the various frames of mind this individual goes through, would look like were thoughts visible. Once you get in step with the Author and his character everything makes sense, what seemed random is not, what was seemingly fragmented becomes perfectly assembled. This book does not say what it is like to feel a certain emotion; it causes the reader to feel as though he or she was experiencing the events themselves. The feeling when the book is read goes beyond the vicarious to something more akin to immersion.
The Author then demonstrates how masterfully and with what range he can craft language, how versatile he is, when, toward the end he lays down courtroom conflict between defense counsel and witnesses that is as well done as any such exchanges I have read. The dialogue is sharp, terse, and delivered in a hyperactive exchange. The Author demonstrates with ease what so many crime story pretenders struggle to produce and generally fail.
The book is brilliant, the Author a writer of incredible range, and he offers a reading experience you will not forget, and one that you will be hard pressed to repeat.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars read dermot healy and shower him with awards 27 Dec 2000
By rackronnieroff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Dermot Healy is amazingly talented. I have now read three books by him - 'The Bend for Home', 'Sudden Times' and 'A Goats Song' (still my favorite of the three). Each time I read him, I am stunned by how, well - perfect - his writing is. His characters tend to have lost thier minds (madness, drink, drugs,or some combination), and the line between what's 'real' in the novel and what the character is hallucinating is never clear. Why do they go about things the way they do? Well, because people do... Like many of Angela Carter's creations, Healy's characters are appealing and attractive, yet at the same time annoying and almost repulsive... In the end, the reader is offered no explanation of what went on - if the character himself doesn't know, how can he explain it to US? He told it to us the best he knew how, anyway. The books have some very undefineable beauty to them. I don't understand why Dermot Healy is not more widely recognised than he is.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Are you telling the court that all that happened to you is based on chance?" 1 July 2005
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Stunning in its raw power, this novel, unlike many other Irish novels, draws its power from its simplicity, rather than from lush description or the accumulation of details. Stripping language to the bare bones here, Dermot Healy draws the reader, without embellishment, directly into the confused mind of the main character, a carpenter named Ollie Ewing.

Ollie has just returned to Sligo, almost mute with shock from unspoken, terrible events which have befallen him while in London, where he has been working as a day laborer on construction sites. The narrative shifts back and forth in time and location, revealing Ollie's paranoia through flashbacks, brief scenes, and dialogue, which sometimes seem to have no context other than their revelation of his suffering. He is clearly trying to hang on to his sanity--and is only marginally successful--as he talks to the reader in quiet, almost confessional tones. Using unadorned, simple language, he describes things he sees that are not there and voices that no one else can hear. Never wasting a word, his earnest narrative forces the reader to share his thoughts while interpreting his state of mind.

Gradually, the reader learns of Ollie's almost paralyzing experiences in London, where he lived with a friend, Marty Kilgallon, in a trailer at an old construction site. Through Marty, Ollie learns firsthand about the protection rackets and extortion on construction sites, the common use of murder as a weapon of enforcement, and the unsympathetic judicial system. When his friend disappears and does not return for six weeks, Ollie gets caught in a whirlwind of violence and learns the true meaning of hell.

By the time he returns to Sligo, he has come to believe that there is a "glass sprinkler" machine, operating at night, which sprinkles glass over the streets of London, that the flecks in people's eyes are aliens, and that his own image in a mirror is someone imitating him. Though Healy's style is often difficult to follow, as the reader tries to piece together the events that are responsible for Ollie's current state of mind, Healy's use of detail is stunning. Casually inserted, bizarre observations about common aspects of life help create Ollie's inner life and illustrate his existential helplessness. The essential unfairness life, the power of chance, and Ollie's victimization catch the reader in a whirlwind of emotions, and his plaintive voice, crying out from all this, is unforgettable. Mary Whipple
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Life in Hell 30 April 2001
By lvkleydorff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Meet Ollie Ewin, the young Irish carpenter who narrates this book. Ollie is a troubled lad, who has hallucinations during the day and cannot sleep because of his nightmares. We first meet him as a lowly clerk in a supermarket and are made part of the terrifying past that haunts him. But the details are never spelled out and one can only guess at the outlines. Then Ollie goes to London and the whole story congeals and unfolds. Ollie blames himself for some of the terrible things that happened that time in London while he is unable to understand the others. He is caught in a swamp of vicious crime and it slowly drowns him. The story escalates until it ends in a nasty persiflage of justice.
First of all, the author shows courage in starting a book with events that make little sense, trusting that the reader will not give up on him. Secondly, he shows incredible imagination in placing us into the tortured soul of this young man and succeeding in making us feel it. And, in addition, the language is superb.
This is a must-read!
2.0 out of 5 stars Ollie Innocent and the terrible English 3 Jun 2012
By Philip S. Walker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The narrator, Ollie, is suffering from various mental problems exacerbated by voluntary as well as involuntary intakes of drugs. In the first half of the novel we find him returning from London to his native Sligo in Ireland, where his own confused narrative is made even more muddled by the locals speaking a kind of English that isn't really "sloppy", as some reviewers have claimed, just a strong dialect. The author's decision to leave out speech marks does its best to add to the intentional lack of clarity. Furthermore, Ollie has flashbacks to his time in London and some nasty experiences that are only very vaguely hinted at. Clearly, the intention is to build up some dramatic tension, but it really only works as an annoyance that distracts from what is otherwise a friendly and humorous description of a local Irish community full of sweet, quirky and rather innocently dysfunctional people, as the Irish like to see themselves.

Many Irish people also like to see the English as a bunch of crooks and bandits, who know nothing better than to harass and discriminate against Irish citizens. Such images dominate the second part of the novel, a long flashback where Ollie, then in his early or mid twenties, travels to late 1980s London to find employment. He is drawn into a mysterious murder case and falls out with a gang of English brutes, led by a man called Silver John. Towards the end of the novel, at a costume party, Ollie's younger brother falls out with Silver John's bodyguard Scots Bob, and Scots Bob pours petrol over Ollie's brother and sets fire to him. Scots Bob, incidentally, isn't really a Scot (had he been, he would probably be all right), but has just lived there for some time and is now a dedicated enemy of all things Celt.

The storyline is littered with inconsistencies, dark areas, contradictions and illogical behaviour by nearly all the characters, as is pointed out by Scots Bob's nasty English defence lawyer towards the end of the story when he cross examines Ollie (referring scornfully to the ROI as "The Irish Free State", as though it were still pre 1949). To an outsider it would look as though Ollie is a liar through and through, only we who are familiar with his own presentation of the events know better, the moral lesson being that life is much more complicated and coincidental than the kind of stringently logical world view some people are trying to force the rest of us into.

As such, this is a story about coming off age. In a dream Ollie has a third eye, a child's eye, in the middle of his forehead through which he sees the world. He is a person who hasn't really grown up, and perhaps doesn't have the mental capacity to do so. In that way, he represents all the people we meet in the early part of the novel, in Ireland, and the conflict between the world of the Irish and the English becomes synonymous with a struggle between childish innocence and the cruel realities of growing up and learning to govern yourself rationally in a brutal world.

In other words, this is serious and ambitious literature open to several layers of interpretation, and I wouldn't for a moment suggest anything other than that Dermot Healy is a truly gifted writer. However, in my opinion this novel partly shoots itself in the foot by attempting, at least in its framework, to be too many things at one time: a piece of regional narrative and a crime story, even a courtroom drama, with more than just a few James Joyce inspired ramblings thrown in for good measure. The drawing on old cliches about both the Irish and the English is only acceptable if we take them as symbols for something else, as already suggested, and the novel's attempt to make serious fiction more appetising by mixing in elements of pulp literature isn't entirely successfully carried out - rather, it ends up sitting itself between a number of chairs. And to cap it all off, the lack of speech marks, and sometimes even crucial commas, is plain annoying and not really indicative of a narrator claimed to possess four 'A' levels.
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