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“Here, of all places”: Geographies of Sexual and Gender Identity in Keith Ridgway's The Long Falling

Ed Madden
Affiliation:
University of South Carolina
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Summary

Now she knew that places were not constant. They were the inventions of minds that stayed still for a moment. They were a gathering of walls and shelters, and certain odours in the air, that served to divide and define and keep a person real.

She had left Monaghan forever. She would not go back. She had come to be with Martin, to make out of the space at his side a place of her own. (Ridgway 107).

When Grace Quinn, the female protagonist of Keith Ridgway's 1998 novel The Long Falling, flees rural Monaghan for urban Dublin after killing her alcoholic and abusive husband, she intends to make a place for herself there with her son, Martin, a gay man who had fled Monaghan years before. Ridgway's novel affirms the rural/urban divide so often depicted in recent Irish literature, rural Ireland represented as backwards and socially repressive, Dublin a synecdoche for the modernization and the political changes transforming Ireland at the end of the twentieth century. When Martin writes home to his mother from Dublin, in one of the novel's frequent topographical spatializations of time, he figures the cultural difference of the city as both spatial and temporal: “He wrote that it was a different world, a different century” (9). The novel takes place in 1992: there is a new government, a new female president of the nation (Mary Robinson, elected in 1990), and within a year Ireland will abolish laws against homosexuality. The nation is also wracked by the controversy of the X abortion case, in which the Attorney General prevented a suicidal 14-year-old girl from obtaining an abortion in England. The X case provides a constant historical counterpoint to the novel, putting the domestic violence and homosexuality of the Quinn family in the historical context of other movements for sexual and reproductive freedoms, all framed within this urban/ rural divide.

However, if the novel seems a tidy fit in the Irish city/country, future/past binary, additional symbolic spaces complicate that easy urban/rural political-geographical division, especially as places ground both political identity and community formation. Further, although Grace seeks to create “a place of her own” at Martin's side, the novel traces the unraveling of that relationship, a failure not just of the personal alliance but perhaps also of larger political alliances it represents.

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Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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