REVIEW: The Nacullians, by Craig Jordan-Baker

The Nacullians
Craig Jordan-Baker

époque Press, 2020

That passed over, this can too.

— Deor’s Lament

We lament [express passionate grief, regret, disappointment] our way into The Nacullians, Craig Jordan-Baker’s debut [a person’s first appearance]. In the pandemic the heft of waiting for the “new normal” to fuck off pass is palpable. The Nacullians details the intricacies of a family’s life which seems, now, exorbitantly lush with interactions, with character(s).

You might feel that to write of people in a house made of brick is a soggy submission to the everyday (1)

The novel is a sad slice of life. Sad in the way of a family leftover, the types that people forget the name of. They exist all the same. The get fucked, and angry, and overeat. They have a surname that does nothing to caress the tongue.

‘Can I have the stuff without vomit on?’ (5)

There’s a narrator [person who delivers accompanying commentary] who interludes on occasion — Creative distancing or self-insertion?

Now then, if a story is a wall, then the backstory is the foundation of that wall (10).

The family home is deemed “a woman’s house,” despite the “absence of women” (11). [Yet, Pope Francis has said, that women are more important than men because the church is a woman]. The city, the house, the dog [bricks, bricks, bricks] anthropomorphised.

[ . . .] in the city there are chain pubs and chain stores and chain restaurants and the cloak of assumed Englishness (20).

In and out of time we dive, with family members different, estate the same, life’s inequalities wafting by like the smell of chips. Some people don’t make it. [She did away with herself].

It was mid-afternoon and the wake was slumbering on (57).

In a murmuration aging into bread and butter and cheese, the family drags on together in shame. [Remember who you are taking to].

‘[ . . .] If you shame me out there, you’ll not eat for a month from my table, I swear’ (89).

The working class body pulses, “a pulstale of ache and quiver,” (93) bringing to mind Édouard Louis’ Who Killed My Father (2018), a critique of France’s treatment of the working class. [New Zealand was colonised by the egalitarian lie]. The Nacullians strives with a feminist agenda to make the personal political, “all that whinging, whining men-are-pigs stuff” (38). Jordan-Baker’s narrator avoids too much technical detail, because “readers think you’re unfeeling, and this narrator is not unfeeling at all” (100) — A sideways glare at Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001)? The stylings of Eimear McBride can be sensed in the syntax of the latter half, “Because a man one. In a hedge once. Down the nameless road.” (137) and in the unnamed unimportant milkwoman the reverberations of Anna Burns.

The Nacullians memorialises the quotidian life of a family in a working class housing estate. [Don’t tell anyone we live in a council house]. The pandemic has recast lower socioeconomic jobs as essential services. [But civilians are still punching supermarket workers in the face]. Will the protagonists of novels from now on be full of characters like Cliff, who up until this moment have not been asked a thing about their lives?

Probably because Cliff was a bland, boring, sad man altogether, the kind of man you could only like in that abstract kind of way like greengrocers and milkmen and bus drivers on our local route. And when bus drivers stop being bus drivers, well, they slip away from us, silently (156).

[One year at the bonfire someone threw live kittens to the flames].

[My neighbour never knew who her father was. She was the only one in town who didn’t know].

The book ends “implacable” (218) [relentless] and so turn the cogs of the precariat, the underclass, the working class. So continues the inadequacy of a system that ignores the “hard things” (21), the likes of the Nacullians.

[ . . .] the IRA and the IMF and LiveAid and Nostradamus were just the clothes which covered a naked faith (54).

Emer Lyons writes articles, reviews, poems, and stories, mostly about working class dykes. @EmerLyons1

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