Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones is exceptional indeed: an extraordinary novel by a writer not yet famous but surely destined to be acclaimed by anyone who believes that the novel is not dead and that novelists are not merely lit-fest fodder for the metropolitan middle classes ... Among its many structural and technical virtues, everything in the book is recalled, but none of it is monotonous ... The book is a hymn to modern small-town life, then, with its 'rites, rhythms and rituals / upholding the world like solar bones,' as well as an indictment of human greed and stupidity, and how places and cultures respond to the circumstances beyond their control and yet of their own making ... The magnificent song that is Solar Bones possesses such peculiar depth, such consonances and dissonances that it is a reminder that a writer of talent can seemingly take any place, any set of characters, any situation and create from them a total vision of the reality. This is a book about Mayo, Ireland, Europe, the world, the solar system, the universe.
...[a] wholly original, incantatory novel ... The structural innovation of Solar Bones places it in conversation with Irish experimentalists ranging from Joyce and Beckett to McBride; yet the novel’s dense layers, preoccupation with contingency, and ability to successfully launch soaring philosophical ponderings from the quotidian also align it with the likes of Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days, Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, and even Richard McGuire’s acclaimed graphic novel Here, which catalogs events that transpire in one corner of a single room across millennia ... McCormack’s perceptive gaze, artful elucidations, and confident prose elevate the conceit to a captivating experience ... Solar Bones is a stunning outcry against human isolation and the 'cosmic odds stacked against this here-and-now.' It is a heartfelt hymn to the matchless shelter of love, singular in its stability, relentlessly singing us home.
...[a] remarkable book ... It is broken by breath and by paragraph indentation, but never by the full stop of finality. Yet it would be quite possible to be swept into this book’s homely, poetic narrative and not notice this device at all ... Marcus’s life is an ordinary one in much the way that the life of Leopold Bloom, his literary predecessor, is ordinary. It is the vivid attention to detail, both in Ulysses, James Joyce’s masterpiece, and in Solar Bones, which make both these novels resonate like that evening bell.
Solar Bones can be called experimental, although any reader who gives the novel a chance to validate its strategies is likely to affirm relatively quickly that these more adventurous qualities of the novel — adventurous, but not conspicuously ‘difficult’ — do not ultimately make it inaccessible except to the most passive kind of reading … The novel becomes a mystery narrative of sorts, although it is a mystery for the narrator himself to resolve, as the reader may not even be aware that there is a mystery to be resolved in the first place … Perhaps the novel’s greatest value is in demonstrating that unorthodox writing strategies need not make a literary work difficult for a patient reader, while also still engaging the attention of more adventurous readers.
It’s not just because Mike McCormack is a gifted Irish writer that James Joyce comes to mind when reading Solar Bones. The form of the novel is also Joycean: The narrative is one continuous, open-ended sentence. Don’t let that put you off this ambitious but fundamentally accessible book. Yes, the opening is disorienting, but necessarily so, as McCormack’s careful clues slowly reveal ... the novel itself is a nimble, reliable bridge; apart from some pacing problems in the late pages, it is structurally flawless ... Instead of confusing the eye, new paragraphs of McCormack’s rolling prose refresh the reader’s attention, as line breaks do in poetry ... some lost opportunities for line edits don’t put a serious dent in the overall impact of Solar Bones. It’s an impressive meditation, as Joyce would say, 'upon all the living and the dead.'
...a wonderfully original, distinctly contemporary book, with a debt to modernism but up to something all its own ... McCormack is a pleasure to read on everything from King Crimson to picking out eyeglasses but it’s the connections that the book keeps coming back to, the way one story relates to another, the whole greater than its parts ... For all its apparent stylistic complexity, Solar Bones is a beautifully simple book. Death has not solved Marcus’s worldly problems, only offered a shift of scope, and this is what McCormack’s novel offers as well. Where modernism took a world that appeared to be whole and showed it to be broken, Solar Bones takes a world that can’t stop talking about how broken it is, and suggests it might possibly be whole.
It’s in sifting these homespun details that the formal risk pays such big dividends. The restlessly onrushing sentence confers a sense of urgency and holiness to Marcus’s 'daily rites, rhythms and rituals.' The ordinary is hallowed by the originality of its expression. And because the writing is so precise and consistent, one quickly adjusts to Marcus’s exhalations of thought and the reading becomes easy and natural. 'All good human stories no matter how they will pan out, you can feel that, the flesh and blood element twitching in them,' Marcus thinks. Solar Bones is a successful experimental novel, but more than that it is a good human story.
McCormack’s novel embraces a rich panorama of working life, spiritual contemplation, and musings over Ireland’s economic woes. Deserving a readership far larger than Irish-literature devotees, this is a work of bold risks and luminous creativity.?
For all his high artistic aims, McCormack is a wonderfully accessible, quick-witted writer—and, with references to Radiohead, Mad Max, and the post-millennial Battlestar Galactica, a smartly contemporary one. The book is alive with startling connections between the exterior and interior worlds and Marcus' former and current selves ... This transcendent novel should expand McCormack's following on this side of the Atlantic and further establish him as a heavyweight of contemporary Irish fiction along with the likes of Anne Enright and Kevin Barry.
...a beautifully constructed novel that blends Beckett’s torrential monologues with a realist portrait of small-town Ireland ... Bodies, minds, buildings, financial systems, the civic order, and the universe itself all seem poised of the brink of collapse. As Marcus waxes eloquent on everything from tractor parts to concrete foundations, the novel’s suspense derives from the mystery of why this 'strange' day—All Souls’ Day, as it happens—occasions such an 'unspooling' of the mind. This is an intelligent, striking work.