The bread, the wine…
Woodcut by Heinrich Lautensack, 1818
The lapse in marital fidelity in ‘Online’ is one of the many instances of complicated relationships in the book, in which most are strained or not quite realised. These failed connections are ruminations, not just on the fleeting nature of affection, but on the fact that relationships are founded on projections, and that, when a person’s identity is necessarily opaque, that projection will always overreach. “I have learned that even underneath I am replaceable”, Walsh’s protagonist states, a contingency that suggests it is not the essence but the superficial accoutrements of a life that motivates many relationships, in some cases maintaining them, but in others revealing their insubstantiality. “Elegance is a function of failure. The elegant always know what it is to have failed” reflects the protagonist of ‘Summer Story’ – an episodic tale of a romance which stutters to life only briefly – and Walsh is adept at summing up the various ways in which relationships can struggle and fail, and how we can reinscribe ourselves with the bitter wisdom of melancholy. Failure may be the price to pay for elegance, but as often in Walsh elegance and failure are cloaks that can be slipped off, to reveal something else. In ‘Summer Story’’s beautifully guileless ending there is more than just loneliness in her description of a spurned lover leaving a party alone: “I left quietly and walked over the bridge to the station and it was not raining and nobody knew I had gone”.
In Vertigo there is pleasure in melancholy and confusion in happiness – the unknowability of others reflected in our own inconsistency, and the inability to trace the gestations of our own states of being – as in the titular story when Walsh writes: “She was bored by this happiness that seemed out of place, impatient to get rid of it. The feeling was less pleasurable than she imagined it might have been, less well-defined, and when she felt along its strings she found it was not easily traced or attached to the objects she thought it might have been attached to. Perhaps it was not attached to anything at all”. Happiness as a burden, detachment as freedom, elegance as failure, identity as a veil; in Vertigo Walsh beautifully disrupts apparent certainties, leaving a tide of uncertainty in her wake.
“Look! Look at the bread, the wine, the tourists! I cannot stop looking at them”, states the protagonist of ‘Half the World Over’ and Walsh persistently captures characters voyeuristically drinking in the mundane attitudes and events of everyday life, transforming those banalities into moments of beautiful isolation. She dramatizes the tragedy of looking from a distance, of being at a remove from life as it is lived and feeling as if it is passing you by. Even the ending of the seemingly slight ‘And After…’ embodies this feeling of not quite being there when it happens, albeit in a more droll way; “Let me sit in the coffee shop and, while drinking bad coffee, hear the rumour that someone famous was to come to town but that the visit was cancelled”.