Swallowing the Sun | CultureHUB Book Review
THIS IS A 2-VIEW REVIEW FROM MEMBERS OF THE BELFAST BOOK CLUB
This is a tragic, yet devastatingly beautiful novel by David Park, tells the story of Martin, a man desperately trying to escape his troubled past, yet an unprecedented turn of events forces him to once again confront his past background. Brought up in East Belfast’s loyalist heartland by an abusive, alcoholic father, Martin succeeded in building a peaceful, stable life for himself. He has an undemanding job as a museum attendant and is married to Alison, whose dedication to her family is unflinching. They have two children; Rachel, whose academic prowess has exceeded her parents’ expectations, and Tom, who is overweight and struggling with victimisation at school. David Park’s skill at portraying emotions is so masterful that we are taken on Martin’s journey along with him. The reader keenly experiences his joys, sorrows, fears, guilts and anxieties, and most importantly his grief at the devastating loss of his daughter. We are immersed at the opening of the novel into his brutal adolescence, where Park is unsparing in his grim depiction. By stark contrast, at the close of the book we ascend into a flight of magical realism, where despite the tragic events, we feel some shred of hope has been redeemed from the wreckage. Although ‘Swallowing the Sun” is not about Belfast, the city, with its own legacy of unrest, looms in the background and becomes almost analogous with Martin and his relationship with his past.
I first heard of local writer David Park only recently; the novelist Alan Hollinghurst singled him out in a Radio 4 interview as one of the most underrated British novelists today. It’s not hard to see why in “Swallowing the Sun” which is beautifully written and its characters, for the most part, brilliantly drawn. The title refers to the goddess of the skies painted on the sarcophagus of the Egyptian mummy Takabuti, who lies in the Ulster Museum. The goddess swallows the sun every night and pours it out again each dawn. The book is not an easy read, emotionally draining and almost unbearable to read in parts. I liked the unusual mix of genres, and this was not off-putting at all. The story starts as a domestic drama and escalates into thriller-style action before culminating in magical realism. The plot is cleverly structured, with flashbacks gradually drawing out the grim details of Marty’s abusive childhood and his adolescent years in a sectarian gang. Marty’s job as an Ulster Museum attendant seems to act as a metaphor for how he copes with his past. As visitors view the museum’s artefacts, neatly labelled in glass cases, so Marty often experiences life as though separated from people by a glass wall. I recommend “Swallowing the Sun” to anyone who wants to read stylish literary fiction with plenty of psychological and actual drama, set in the familiar surroundings (to me, anyway) of east Belfast. This novel will draw you in and keep you captivated.