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Monday 23 January 2012
Milligan and Murphy
Reading these early pages I constantly heard - or thought I heard- echoes of Samuel Beckett. I began to fantasize that maybe Milligan and Murphy were two characters who'd proved surplus to requirements when he was writing Waiting for Godot or one of his other plays. Maybe that was just my own mind set - I had been thinking about the play not long before. Whichever way it was, rest assured Vladimir and Estragon, Milligan and Murphy are not. And as there is no firm reason why a review should be chronological or follow a logical course, it might be helpful if I say here and now that when I was a bit further into the book I suddenly realised that I was not hearing echoes of Beckett, but a different, and I believe original, voice.
There is, shall I call it a family resemblance, but nothing more than that. For one thing, there are levels of philosophical debate (home spun philosophy for the most part, it is true, but philosophy none the less) in their apparently vacuous talk. This for instance from the early part of the book (it is Murphy talking):
"Do you not think that Mary Maguire has the most magnificent breasts?"
"I think it is a bit early in the morning to be considering weighty matters such as those."
"They're massive, they truly are."
"It makes me thirsty just thinking about them Murphy. Can we go and get fed now? I'm so hungry I could eat a cow."
Somewhere a bit earlier than this I should have told you something about our two heroes. They are half brothers. Murphy was a little late in arriving in this world and sometime after the event his father disappeared in strange circumstances. Whether or not the two events were connected appears to be in some sort of doubt. Mrs Murphy, it seems, took off with Murphy Junior in search of an adequate replacement, but ended up with Mr Milligan. Milligan and Murphy are inseparable, still living with mum and still sharing a bedroom, if not a bed. In any other milieu we might have dubbed them layabouts, but so invisibly do they merge into the oddities of Lissoy, the little village in Ireland which is home to them, that such a judgement would seem harsh.
The story proper begins with Ma Milligan telling them that "O'Connor is on the lookout for bodies for his farm." Milligan appeals against the implied instruction in this on the ground that it is Tuesday,
the day on which it is customary to collect their unemployment assistance. This argument is quickly shot down in flames and they set off for O'Connor's farm. They never arrive.
The last thing Milligan and Murphy could be accused of is being proactive. They do not control their lives. Stuff happens (like they come upon an unconscious tramp at the crossroads) and they take a certain direction, are nudged towards it. It is not quite clear how the event causes the result, but somehow that is what happens. They do not take the turning that leads to O'Connor's farm. The road they are on goes on, and somehow so do they. A pivotal moment in their lives passes unrecognised and vanishes for ever into the great blue yonder.
So begins their odyssey. During it they will discuss the meaninglessness of life with four strangers they will meet: the aforementioned tramp, a priest, an artist and an old woman. They are not without their humorous aspects, these conversations, as here with Jesse, the old woman, in her kitchen after she has befriended them and taken them to her home.
"Over the last few days three people have spoken to my brother and me, in brief and at length, about the meaningless of existence: a tramp, a priest of all people, an artist and now you: this can't be a coincidence."
"What, and you think that means something?" Her tone was sarcastic. "You think God is trying to tell you that he doesn't exist? Ha!"
Not wishing to give away too much of the story, I will just add that Milligan and Murphy ends with the two of them leaning on the rail of a ship bound for Southampton, they having at an earlier point in their odyssey decided that it was the sea for them - though somehow I don't believe that will be the end of the tale.
Milligan and Murphy is available in paperback from FV Books and an ebook version will follow in due course. You can read the opening chapter here.
Jim's blog, The Truth About Lies, is here