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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.
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