I might suggest that Aidan Mathews is either the most under-rated figure in Irish literature or I have horrendous taste in books. But if I put the matter that way it would be unfair to Mathews because the chances are that I have an underdeveloped literary palate and still Mathews deserves vastly more attention. English speaking pastors and theologians need to start paying heed to him aswell. In our love of Dostoyevsky and Flannery O’Connor and Marilynne Robinson, we have demonstrated ourselves to be able to appreciate wisdom even when it isn’t structured as a list of Papal decrees or systematic propositions. Let me urge you to track down some of Mathews’ poetry, plays, short stories or this, his novel. It will be worth it.
Muesli at Midnight is a discursive novel. It isn’t plot-driven. It features extensive internal reflection from the two main characters, two medical students falling in love and then extensive reflection based in their dialogue. It also features the skeleton of a late Archbishop of Dublin who accompanies them on a cycle around the island of Ireland raising funds for AIDS treatment.
This journey isn’t charted with the kind of geographic enthusiasm that I would have liked. As someone who has fallen in love with this island, I would want lots of descriptions of locale and locality. Instead, the journey that we go on is a sort of voyage through the human condition, never veering far from investigations of sex, faith and death. Ultimately, it is a book that features two annoying know-it-all undergrads, portrayed with such generosity of spirit that we can’t help but love their arrogant naivety. We also can’t help but be touched as they discover just how deep their love is for each other.
Here is Noel, a hearse-driver who gives Theo and Felicity a lift at one point, talking about how he keeps his bright teenaged daughter from reading the Bible without guidance since the worst thing that can happen to an intelligent young person is that they get hold of an idea and run with it:
‘I mean the Sermon on the Mount. If you took that to heart, you couldn’t go on living. Not the way we survive, anyhow. You’d have to commit a kind of suicide, and start all over. From the foundations. Which is fine, of course, except that you have to clear the site first, and the site happens to be your home, a house on a twenty-year mortgage.’
– Aidan Mathews, Muesli at Midnight, p. 237.
And that, my friends, is about as good a paragraph on how difficult an idea being born-again actually is for Irish people today as you can hope to find.
Your Correspondent, His personal motto is shrugging his shoulder