27 thoughts on “Time Present and Time Past – Deirdre Madden

  1. ONE

    A carrot cake that momentarily “looks like the pickled brain of an elf”, now a fading dream back to what it was. This is an engaging start about 47 year old Fintan (married with children and annoyed with his mother) whose business lunch goes badly because he goes off into a dream instead of listening… I remember this happening to me a lot. Words turning into gobbledygook. And telling my children about the black and white world of my childhood and later colour injections. I mention this several times in my book reviews over the years, e.g HERE: ‘A hymn I sung in school assembly in the Nineteen Fifties. The Fifties seemed even darker. With no colour injections for the poor. But that is a digression on my part.’ Indeed a digression, as this opening chapter takes place in Dublin and has the well-written ambiance attractions of William Trevor whose complete stories I real-time reviewed HERE. Yes, REAL-TIME reviewed. And oh, yes, only a day or so ago, my fifty year old son showed me some of our old family photos that he had colourised and/or put in facial-motion with the new ‘Deep Nostalgia’ App…

  2. TWO

    “She sits down with the tea and waits for it to draw. There’s a younger woman at a nearby table with an enormous buggy. It’s quite ridiculous, the size of it: you could invade Iraq in a thing like that, Joan thinks.”

    We follow Fintan’s mother, Joan, in her 70s but looking in her 60s, as she meanders through the city, dwelling on her past, the circumstances of her marriage, her widowhood, her past contrastive states of childbirth, two children Fintan and Martina, I gather — Martina now living with Joan’s sister Beth. There’s something impending, I guess. But what? All nicely done on thick paper with widely spaced lines of text and engaging in a quirky-literary sort of way.

  3. THREE

    “‘Niall,’ he asks, ‘do you know when colour photography was invented?’
    ‘The early twentieth century.’
    ‘As early as that? Are you sure?’”

    Fintan at home over dinner with his wife Colette, and his children Lucy, Niall and Robert, the two boys almost grown up, I guess, with Fintan dwelling on their individual contrastive characteristics and circumstances of childbirth in order, their ritual of clearing up after dinner, but not before asking them gratuitously, it seems, to sit still for a short time…”…like worshipping Quakers, waiting for the Spirit to move through the room.” As if each spirit of each character moves through this book, in due turn, for no obvious reason, with not even an overriding plot to guide them. Sleeping-over between otherwise sturdy pages, just for its own sake, or because that’s what people did… like children who know things instinctively, along with the trees in the wood that eventually go towards making the book they are now in? Existential laughter, heard.

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  5. FOUR

    “She is brooding, yes, but about nothing more sinister than the lasagne she left out of the freezer the night before.”

    Colette is wakeful and leaves her place beside Fintan in bed, and goes downstairs, and we follow her thoughts about the past, the children, how the boys are old enough to leave home, the circumstances her getting married to Fintan and meeting his family, fulfilling ambitions to live in Howth, and, tonight, a possibly dozing or now co-vivid dream that seems to feature the lasagne and the two girl sleep-overers spooning it into their mouths. All very beguiling and strange but eminently believable as a reading experience, as we dwell on Colette’s stream of consciousness: Fintan’s earlier “odd frame of mind” by making the family tableau stay still for a split second or two at the dinner table. The “sigh — creak — click” of the door’s mortise lock. The fragility of life always on the brink of a possible pending calamity. A dying fall as in Christy’s Mozart music? Squaring all things to keep everyone happy.

    “…like stumbling into the pages of a story book.”

  6. FIVE

    “There is music playing softly in the background, a Mozart concert being broadcast…”

    Fintan visits his strikingly beautiful sister Martina and his sleepy aunt Beth in their home. The domineering of his mother Joan seems to preside in the background, too. I not only gather subtly more about these characters but also relish the William Trevor type ambiance with reference to the Irish Troubles that is, in part, evoked by a box of old family photos, sepia or black and white, fuzzy or clearer, the description of which is staggeringly and evocatively beautiful to me having, via the actions of my son (a similar age to Fintan in this book), very recently (in last few days) experienced my own family’s such photographs some of which I can hardly remember seeing before, with me as a small child with my toys, photos that my son has just revivified into restoration involving colourising and/or animation. A younger version of my late mother actually smiling in real-time at me has been a moving experience. This Madden book, having been recommended to me out of the blue a few weeks ago, by Tony Lovell, seems highly fortuitous at least! A preternatural phenomenon, perhaps, so in keeping with my experience over the years as generated by gestalt real-time reviewing books of so-called fiction. Some phrases from this chapter thus haunt me even more than they otherwise would have done, viz. “air of the past”, “the quality of time”, “…smiling at the camera in a way that is both beguiling and slightly unnerving”, a woman in one ancient photo when compared to Martina “the resemblance they bear to each other is quite uncanny”, and “It’s a pity it’s in black and white rather than colour”…

    “As one got older, so much of life became damage limitation.”

  7. SIX & SEVEN

    “…and he feels a kind of free-floating guilt about everything and nothing.”

    I feel Fintan’s anxieties myself, and I am still at sixes and sevens about this book, as with many books at such a point in the chapter count. However, constructively maddened as I am by aspects that resonate with tantalising aspects in my own mind about the PAlimpseST of past and future, the onset of colour after the 1950s in my own case, I chime with his hearing two voices of ‘Proustian selves’ at the same time, one voice when young and the other when old. Meanwhile, beyond the sixes and sevens, I somehow feel a firm mutual base to touch each time I open these stiff pages. Also I am captivated by the build up of the characters of his two sons, especially wan boxroomed Niall who seems to have a wise hook on the melody of Time, discussing the development of colour photography with his father and how the latter might remember the 60s and 70s and the Irish Troubles including Fintan’s own father as lapsed would-be priest marrying Joan as a sort of hair shirt… The Villon proverb, the frozen moment over dinner, the desire to stop time, and there is the thought of that gestalt gently building up from all of these and more – “Oh, I needed that.”

  8. EIGHT

    “‘And this is how you get from here to here’”

    …and so said Martina (once, indeed, almost like an alien Martian in a large polished straw disc hat) demonstrating to Colette the sort of figure 8 from this chapter’s number, with Martina earlier going to London but then back again to Ireland, with kinks and set-backs in between, or, rather, Martina’s hinted giant knot or gestalt of unhappiness during that audit trail. We learn a lot, gently, methodically, circuitously with words, about the difference between these two women as sisters-in-law, their outlooks, their clothes, their make-up, the classy boutique of one, the crafty feng shui in rooms of the other. As undercurrents we also learn more about the other characters (including Colette’s three children, the youngest being Lucy, an unexpected even unwanted arrival at one time), the gestalt of various distinct facets that make up the close “overheated” family into which Colette has entered (by marriage to Fintan). I myself, an only child with very few relatives, married into an overheated family, too, I guess!

  9. 95CFF3FB-026F-4AC5-8C19-3BE43033E8B8

    From ‘The Apple Tree’ (1931) by Elizabeth Bowen


    “…and a black tee shirt that says on it in tiny white letters, ‘This is what I am wearing today.’”

    As with recent discussions with my own son in recent weeks, Niall (who wears such a tee shirt) and his father also discuss colour photography, but they major upon its historical development and the nature of the past to the senses, and how we overestimate the charm of the past, and the pasticides used on more modern fruit. In the old days, going anywhere without having had a pre-warning from colour photographs, visiting places back then was the “shock of the beauty of it; the strangeness.”
    The memory filtered by Fintan of the Troubles though is troubled.

    “…all this made up crap.”


    A photograph I took for a book review in 2015.

    Nine is considered a good number in Chinese culture because it sounds the same as the word “long-lasting”. (from Wikipedia)

  10. Full moonlight drenched the city and searched it: there was not a niche left to stand in.  The effect was remorseless: London looked like the moon’s capital – shallow, cratered, extinct.” — From ‘Mysterious Kôr’ by Elizabeth Bowen

    And there is a chauffeur in Bowen’s ‘World of Love’ who wore “Martian gauntlets”, gauntlets as psychic armour but, like the high fashion gloves that I always recall my grandmother wearing, they are not always able to hide the ten digits that formed the irresistible archetype for human counting systems and for the human time scheme beyond the seconds, minutes and hours and days into decades and centuries and, even, millennia…


    “Martina thinks that you have to have worked in a clothes shop to understand the depths of human emotions and pathos to be found there; to know the drama of it all.”

    Martina dwells on her past period of life in the now alien world of London (“the anonymity of London spooked her at times”) and why she first went there and why she then returned to her homeland Ireland, dwells, too, on her earlier romantic relationships in London, one such relationship now seemingly blocked, and her career ambitions in clothes and cosmetics (“always been her dream to have her own shop”), and now memories even further back as ‘bright stones’ and how an older person still harbours a “shimmer” of the younger person whom she one knew. The remembrance of things past, in search of lost time, and of one’s separate Proustian selves, is gently and meanderingly pervasive within this text: a gratuitous meditation for its own sake.

    “She likes the slight distance there is in her dealings with the public, enjoys constructing a self…”

  11. “Standing before Fintan is Fintan himself.”


    “, impossible questions to which there was no logical answer; questions that were answers in themselves. Lucy was the sound of one hand clapping. All he has to do is love her.”

    3B7187E0-BAEE-4538-9978-5BEDB552B5A4A sort of double-take, but with one Fintan younger than the other Fintan. A fateful completion of what one-plus-one might once have brought, as our Fintan takes Lucy and her school friend on a zoo trip, while the other more emotionally needy Fintan is living, in a slightly creepy block of flats, only allowed restricted access to his daughter by by an estranged ex. Ex with one outside: XI. This other Fintan left behind to tidy up not only the kitchen’s island of empty pizza boxes etc but also to tidy up his own singular life. The zoo itself, meanwhile, with a snow leopard, a bongo, a snowy owl, a Sumatran tiger, possibly all on concrete islands if not any longer caged. A woke Nia11 would have disapproved, despite the zoo’s improvements since our Fintan was there as a child himself — being photographed with “the lower reaches of a giraffe” as backdrop.
    Time present and time past both singular but also both the same? [You can now get T.S. Eliot’s cats anthropomorphised, too, on a tawdry DVD.]

  12. I loved Fintan’s sister’s house, the old fashioned one that keeps recurring. Whenever it turned up I felt glad. Just over a year ago we visited the house of a friend’s husband’s mother and it was just such an old place, unchanged it felt since the seventies. I know we should embrace the new but i felt so comfortable there. I wanted to stay.

  13. AF286122-6A45-48E1-94E3-35C139495ADBTWELVE & THIRTEEN

    “The cat has caught has caught a mouse. Or rather, it is in the process of catching a mouse…”

    The earlier “tiger kitten in a basket” (about which we are told later) that the now late Christy had given Beth when they were first married in their fifties. We learn more about Martina’s arrival to live with them following whatever had happened to her in London, and the characters of all of them, and we also later follow a visit by Fintan to his and Martina’s mother Joan in her basement flat. We gently meander in and out their lives past and present and infer their future. Time is a bit of a cat and mouse game, I guess, and the various characters in this book blend with their own earlier Proustian selves and vice versa, good things in life arguably balancing bad things, and this time Fintan sees a later form of Lucy just as he earlier saw an earlier form of himself. Even seeing himself walking around without a head. From “ghostly presence” towards someone who can do household chores. Inevitably, we all return to becoming ghostly presences, and depend being put in photo frames to have one’s past respected at all? Any teapot shaped like a cottage with chimneys, notwithstanding.

    “…Fintan, who would as soon eat his shoes as renounce meat.”

    • I don’t know what it signifies, but I find this passage from above chapters astonishing (especially in view of what I wrote earlier while brainstorming ‘Martian’ above a few days ago):
      “, Fintan feels that he is caught up in a science fiction story, and that his mother is an alien masquerading as an elderly Dublin woman,…”


    “…a rent in the fabric of time itself,…”

    We learn more about what happened to Martina in the alien world of London — as released by her thinking of an oversized photo containing the image of some past family’s probably now forgotten and feared matriarch, and by her feeling the cat’s heart beat and drinking a glass or two of strong drink, but I need to keep all of this hidden in plain sight for the sake of a future reader, since the future can only be encountered as if it truly is the future — if only for me to remember a passage from earlier in this book about the balance of good and bad things in the gestalt of one’s life. And Fintan’s thoughts about the skies above today actually becoming 18th century ones (cf the Priest book to which I linked earlier)…. and it is as if we readers become participants in this book rather than observers, which somehow paradoxically works by being the opposite of what Fintan is made to feel by the words describing him! Characters and readers switching places? To experience, I think, in the last few lines of these chapters about Fintan’s epiphany, what I call Null Immortalis within the unique and oblique ‘religious’ effect of some fiction.

    “I sometimes think photographs had more value when they weren’t so commonplace; when they took more effort. We’re drowning in images nowadays.[…] I sometimes wonder what the point of it is.”


      “But how can all of this be known, when it has not come to pass?”

      Three relatively short chapters to comprise this book’s satisfying Christy-musical coda, somehow both a ‘dying fall’ and an uplifting resumé. Answering many questions about the ‘overheated’ family’s — and its characters’ — future and then snatching away answers, replacing, at least momentarily, the cottage teapot in an old memory-filled house with an explicitly metal one in a new house built to replace it although miles away up north. Spanning the two parts of Ireland and comprising a recent economic crisis. A credit crunch, as it were, as all fiction is in danger of a belief crash. Any fiction, like this one, that faces such a fact somehow counterbalances it. And we follow Martina and her brother Fintan in the nearer term leaving the future to look after itself, as they revisit old haunts and renew family connections to secure that future anew. They can now see the colours for real of certain stable doors, assuming time has not dulled them. “…the past, like the future, also shimmers behind the veil of imagination.” A timeless book with an eternal present to centre us.

      “, the cat, with its folded paws and perfect markings, might well appear to them fabulous as a unicorn.”


      As I read these last chapters, Spotify on random somehow chose to play MEMORY from TS Eliot’s CATS. Honestly! …Which is a sort of miracle because my Spotify’s learnt algorithms usually choose proper music for the likes of me! I can’t tell you how much this event shook me.


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