Soldier Sailor by Claire Kilroy - review by Rosemary Goring

Rosemary Goring

Mother of All Challenges

Soldier Sailor


Faber & Faber 256pp £16.99

It is more than ten years since Claire Kilroy’s last novel was published, and this latest is nothing like the others. Kilroy has been recognised as an original since the appearance of her debut, All Summer. In this, and in subsequent works such as Tenderwire and The Devil I Know, she stamped her personality on Irish literature through a style that was by turns savagely satirical and
psychologically intense.

Her talent has been put to very different use in Soldier Sailor, the story of a woman navigating first-time motherhood. Kilroy’s unnamed narrator addresses her young son, whom she calls Sailor, as she describes his earliest days. This is a story for him to read when he is older. In his first months, as she painstakingly shows, she feels utterly adrift. Writing of mothers, she reflects: ‘We all go bustling about, pushing shopping trolleys or whatever, acting like love of this voltage is normal; domestic, even. That we know how to handle it. But I don’t.’ All she can say for sure is that, if necessary, she would kill for this child. As the struggle to cope with the baby’s needs while retaining some sense of her old identity grows harder, she even considers taking her own life. In what could be the motto under every mother’s coat of arms, she writes: ‘Loving you was the easy part. Loving you was the only easy part.’

With a husband whose job takes first place, the narrator finds herself painfully lonely. It’s no surprise that a perpetual riff is the absence of fathers, who put in extra-long hours in the office just when their partners most need them at home. Like many before her, she

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