In 2012 the Irish writer Keith Ridgway published his fourth novel, Hawthorn & Child, a blackly comedic inversion of a police procedural. It focuses loosely on two murder detectives and it reads like a 21st-century riff on Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 1953 anti-detective novel The Erasers, insomuch as none of the many mysteries raised in it are ever solved or even come close to a state of resolution. But the novel is also a deft depiction of north London in the dog days of New Labour and it draws heavily on the suburban melancholia of Wood Green and Hornsey for its downbeat atmosphere. Ridgway’s new novel, A Shock, published nearly a decade after Hawthorn & Child, can be seen, in part, as a south London sibling to the previous work, although instead of using a police station on the Holloway Road as its narrative anchor, it centres on a modest Camberwell pub called The Arms where most of the main characters sometimes go to drink, or know someone who does.
Like many of Ridgway’s previous novels, A Shock lacks an obvious plot and its stylistic debt to Samuel Beckett and Irish modernism more generally looms large. While it is unquestionably more accessible than Ridgway’s slightly impenetrable neo-Beckettian 2006 novel Animals (in which the first nineteen pages relate the narrator’s thoughts