“The woman was an example. Of something. Of not making it easy.” (p11)
Little Constructions by Anna Burns must be considered an inevitable follow up to her brilliant Milkman. Both books map the topography of chaos; the damage of whole societies as well as individual persons living in a state of trauma that creates a fractured, splintered atmosphere imbued with an absence of hope—not hopelessness—an absence of hope, like the idea of hope has yet to even be considered. One needs a root in order to fool around with the suffixes—to have the luxury of attaching the lessness to the concept. But Little Constructions takes the Heideggerian aspects of an always already traumatized population into something of a third dimension.
“So what’s going on? Do we have a psychoanalyst or a psychoanalytical psychologist or a psychophysiological profiler or even an unaccredited enthusiast with Jungian leanings in the building who could perhaps do a bit of maturity work for us here? Is this a state of stuckness? A state of sickness? Did these men perhaps leave school before they’d learnt enough and should have? Or is it that they couldn’t get themselves individuated and thus had intermingling mythic mirages, not only in their dreams but in their waking lives as well? I wouldn’t know about interpretations, for my expertise lies in being a bystander.” (p31)
The actually story is brief, but the tale is long, convoluted, and necessarily repetitive as trauma grotesquely repeats itself, doesn’t it? The characters practically all have the same names highlighting the incestuous nature of the situation, both concretely and metaphorically. It is easy to follow because what we have, really, is a simple tale of murder and incest, but at the same time difficult to follow as we have a dizzying array of the casualties, the fall out of the mess is strewn about like shrapnel, one hardly knows how to catch the through line, but fear not, we have our narrator, our friendly bystander, to explain the situation to us with verve and patience.
“And he went off. Ramblings. You know ramblings. So did Jotty. Even before he started, she felt Early Onset Compassion Fatigue Syndrome set in.” p 284
I love a good narrator. The intimacy a good narrator can create with the reader, or at least with this reader, is a powerful attractor. She’s talking to me. She’s funny and smart, and while in-the-know, also, sometimes, as puzzled as I am over the goings on; but as told by her, the dark tale becomes farce and gallows humor is a comfort to us both. The trauma is set off as to expose its ridiculousness. It’s all an absurdity. The real tragedy is the waste. The wasted time of the wasted lives that can’t get beyond the de-personalized injury inflicted upon them. It’s like they are twice assaulted, once by the assaulter, and again by their own fixation on that assault which had, in reality, very little to do with them beyond the happenstance of being there, then. But try telling that to the ruminating machines we call brains.
How do we cope? We say nothing. It’s best to say nothing, after all. Break the machine. Speak and think in code if you must think or speak at all to get as far away as you can from the thing—as if that thing had solid form within our heads—in order to physically get away from it a psychic fracturing is necessary and obviously logical. It’s upsetting and annoying, but it must be done.
“‘Julie,’ she said, and by now she was beside herself. ‘I’ve just come from therapy. Just found out at therapy. My therapist says that even though I say I’m upset and annoyed – she says that in reality I’m much, much more than that!’ […]
Julie was stunned. Both of them were stunned. By this time they had stopped walking and were staring fixedly into each other’s eyes on the High Street.
‘How’d you mean?’ said Julie. ‘I don’t understand. Where is the evidence for your therapist to be saying this? How is it possible anyway, to be more than upset and annoyed?” (pp 245-246)