Abstract

Using Dermot Healy's Sudden Times as a case study, this article aims to explore issues concerning reception and reading conventions raised by the narratives of deranged narrators. While the narrator's — Ollie Ewing's — mental confusion is acknowledged by himself and others in various ways, his narrative, as rhetorical performance, operates through a tension between indeterminacy and instability on the one hand and consonance and confirmation on the other. In a narrative characterized by repetition, fragmentation, fuzzy temporality, and near absence of causality, the narrated “I” is essentially defined by the interaction between metonymy, in the form of precise geographical anchoring of the self, and metaphors of displacement and disorientation. The spatial rhetoric of Ollie's narrative reverses the reader's notions of center and margin, and eventually reveals the second half of the narrative to be a metaphorical journey back to the traumatic events which caused Ollie's mental derangement. The narrative stutter characteristic of Sudden Times does not only mirror Ollie's mental stutter: the trial section of the novel, with its verbatim repetition of previous passages of his narrative, functions paradoxically, since it emphatically confirms the narrator's previous account of events while destabilizing our own reading and exposing the conventions of validating devices in fiction. This long section of the novel ultimately forces us to question the ideological implications of our participation in a narrative doxa which, through the illusion of shared common sense, blinds us to the paradoxical nature of the rhetoric upon which it relies.

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