By: Stewart Parker
This poignant autobiographical novel by Stewart Parker is the story of an amputee enveloped in its mood of numbed trauma. The writing is masterful, the dialogue witty, full of finesse and immersive description.
In a great Irish tradition of autobiographical fiction that includes James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark, Parker’s poignant novel depicts events surrounding the amputation of his left leg as a nineteen-year-old university student. Masterful vignettes present the callow protagonist’s life before, during and after this ordeal. Belfast, drear locus of rain and despond, contributes to the heaviness at the novel’s heart, as its characters strive to rise above the pervasive melancholy of the city and find some human happiness that they can share.
Tosh, Parker’s alter-ego, is drifting through life before his cancer diagnosis, plagued by the twin ‘cankers’ of a puzzling pain in the leg and a crippling loneliness. The amputation forces him into a more authentic relationship with life, which ‘Starts with the wound. Ends with the kiss. For the lucky ones.’
This remarkable, posthumously edited work, largely written in the early 1970s, prefigures the skills Stewart Parker would demonstrate in his plays: plainspoken and stoical in tone, the emotion seeps through a membrane of numb reserve. The writing is impressionistically vivid, the descriptions of pain and discomfort wholly authoritative. Hopdance is a beautiful, sincere, personal testament by a true artist, a wondrous ‘lost treasure’ of literature now presented to its reading public.