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Mary O'Meara - A Certain Kind of Light

  by John Clarkson

published: 30 / 6 / 2017

Mary O'Meara - A Certain Kind of Light


John Clarkson examines 'A Certain Kind of Light', the debut novel of Pennyblackmusic writer Mary O'Meara

A Certain Kind of Light’ is the debut novel of music writer and Pennyblackmusic contributor Mary O’ Meara, and follows on from her 2012 biography and personal memoir ‘Between the Lines: A History of Haven’, which was about the rise and slow decline of 90’s indie/alternative band Haven. In ‘A Certain Kind of Light’ its narrator Eileen McCarthy moves with her best friend Annie from Manchester to South London to take up a new job as the performing arts editor on a local listings and entertainment magazine, ‘South of the River’. Shortly after her arrival in London, she meets Charlie Gitane, an actor who she has seen on the television and on stage and who is the head of a local theatre company, the Last Exit Players. Eileen feels an instant overwhelming bond and rapport with Charlie, but he already has a girlfriend, the striking Elaina. Shortly afterwards they break up, but then Charlie becomes involved with another girl, the pushy Danielle… This is so far so conventional, but what makes ‘A Certain Kind of Light’ extraordinary is that large parts of it are set in a sort of alternative reality that expand far beyond the suburban landscape of Balham in which both Eileen and Charlie have taken root. The sensitive Eileen is the recipient almost on a nightly basis of colourful, multi-dimensional dreams, which serve increasingly as a code for her to crack to try and unravel the complexities of her and Charlie’s relationship. Eileen also starts seeing a psychic, who offers her both good and at one point spectacularly bad advice, and helps her come to believe that she and Charlie are twin souls or twin flames, two people whose spiritual connection is so rare and so profound that it is overwhelming and terrifying for both of them. Mary rightly leaves matters open enough for the reader to decide whether he or she wants to interpret this literally or as a kind of magical realism, but much of ‘A Certain Kind of Light’ has, as a result, a hallucinatory tone. Mary is particularly good at acknowledging that there are some things in and perhaps beyond this world which can’t be brushed away or explained by rationality. She is good too at capturing the intoxicating helplessness of being in love with someone who for whatever reason is unable to love you back, in which every smile is hung onto and every conversation or encounter, however small, is stripped down word-by-word and then rebuilt and analysed over and over. In Eileen, Mary has created a sympathetic and engaging but complex, sometimes contradictory and achingly human character. Eileen claims at one point that she is not obsessive when it comes to Charlie, but spends the majority of ‘A Certain Kind of Light’ and years yearning for him. She is far too moral and kind a person to muscle in on someone else’s boyfriend, but at the same time keeps looking for cracks in Charlie and Danielle’s relationship and hoping that something will change. She knows that she spends way too much time inside her own head. Much of ‘A Certain Kind of Light’ is a stream-of-consciousness monologue in which she tries to sort out her own feelings for Charlie and work out his for her, and, as it is eventually revealed, she has to learn to love herself before she can ever really love anyone else. Charlie is clearly very fond of Eileen, but we are kept second guessing for much of the novel whether he has the same intensity of feelings for her, even after in a moment of desperation she tries to finally tell him of her feelings for him, and for that matter if his romance with the icy Danielle is as unhappy as Eileen imagines. As the novel progresses, and he moves in with and then becomes engaged to Danielle and they eventually away move from Balham, he remains spiritually close to Eileen but physically an increasingly far away and irregular presence. ‘A Certain Kind of Light’ is not a music book, but at the same time perhaps inevitably for a music writer music still has a large part to play in it. It takes its title from the opening lines of “There’s a light/A certain kind of light” from the Bee Gees’ 1967 single ‘To Love Somebody’, which was latterly covered also by Jimi Somerville who had a Top 5 hit with it. Hudson’s Cave, an imaginary local Balham gig and arts venue (which if I have my geography right is situated one minute round the corner from our webmaster’s old flat for fifteen years), is one of the novel’s main locations, and a Black Motorcycle Club gig at Shepherds Bush Empire attended by both Eileen and Annie and in which they encounter Charlie and Danielle provides the setting for a crucial scene. Eileen comes to the realisation that there may be no real ending to Charlie’s and her story, but at the same time ‘A Certain Kind of Light’ has a conclusion of sorts in a Richmond parkland which is as tender and fitting as it is surprising. ‘A Certain Kind of Light’ is a deeply moving novel that examines both the ordinary and the magical, and which asks profound and thought-provoking questions about both reality and also what it is to be human.

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