Writer out of the ordinary



Joanna Walsh (gorse nos. 1, 3 and 6) is the Irish Times Book Club pick for the month with Vertigo, published in Ireland by Tramp Press. gorse editor Susan Tomaselli wrote on Joanna’s book here.

Banality, Marguerite Duras said, is sometimes striking, and no more so in Vertigo, where Walsh explores the minutiae, the small stuff “always the same and always different”, or, as Wallace Stevens calls it, “the nothing that is”. Oulipean writer Georges Perec called it the “infra-ordinary” and suggested we find our own anthropology: “What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines. Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist… How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs every day: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?”

Sometimes disorientating, often fragmentary, there is a quality to the writing akin to the very feeling of vertigo she describes in the title story, the “sense that if I fall I will fall not toward the earth but into space. I sense no anchorage. I will pitch forward, outward and upward.” The book has been deliciously described as a “writer’s coup”, an up-ending of sanctified words, and we are clinging to the words as anchorage. I am reminded of Duras again – specifically her call for a new language (“There should be a non-writing, and it will come some day. A simple language without grammar. A form of writing consisting only of words.”) – in ‘The Children’s Ward,’ where Walsh writes: “There will be no more words soon. Get ready for it. No more words ever now. No more ever. I don’t dare to ask anymore.”

Joanna will be interviewed by the Irish Times at the Irish Writers Centre on Thursday 23 June, 7.30pm.