Keith Ridgway Essay - Critical Essays

Ridgway, Keith

Introduction

Keith Ridgway The Long Falling

Ridgway is an Irish novelist and short story writer.

Ridgway's debut novel, The Long Falling (1998), opens with an introduction to Grace Quinn, the wife of a physically brutal man, and the mother of an estranged gay son. Grace, a middle-aged Englishwoman living in rural Ireland, realizes that she cannot continue to bear living with the alcohol-laden abuse of her husband. Her husband beats her nightly, and blames her for the death of their first son who accidentally died as an infant. Grace decides to run over her husband in the same automobile that he drunkenly used to kill an innocent girl. Grace then flees the farmland to stay with her son in Dublin.

The Long Falling has been reviewed as a culturally, politically, and morally complex novel, that raises important issues and asks appropriate questions, but doesn't necessarily offer solutions. Critics have commented positively on Ridgway's skill in employing actual contemporary, sociopolitical events to add dimensional depth to the characters' emotional development and discovery. The narrative is told in the third person, with shifting perspectives; the shifts are identified by chapters entitled by the name of the characters whose point of view is being presented. Most critics agree on the clarity of Ridgway's stylistics. Reviewer Jan Blodgett has noted, "Writing in a clear prose style that never loses its balance, Ridgway captures the bleakness and passion of contemporary Ireland."

Criticism

Publishers Weekly (review date 26 January 1998)

SOURCE: Review of The Long Falling, in Publishers Weekly, January 26, 1998, p. 67.

[In the following review, the critic opines that Ridgway's characters' tendency toward excessive imperviousness and heartlessness "may leave readers cold".]

Set in Ireland, this grim debut follows a middle-aged woman on her doomed escape from her abusive, alcoholic husband. Grace Quinn's husband (a deliberate symbol of male brutality who's never identified by a given name) beats her, and his bullying has already banished their younger son, Martin, from their home after the boy's confession that he is gay. One evening, Grace makes an extreme, shocking bid for freedom and flees their small rural town for Dublin. Ironically, she arrives there during the furor that surrounded the real-life 1992 "X Case," in which a 13-year-old rape victim was prevented from traveling to England for an abortion. When her son in turn banishes her, Grace's isolation is played out in a small boarding house alongside the more public suffering of "X," for whom the nation rallies in sympathy. The novel poses interesting questions about the status of women in a changing Ireland, but it so insistently refuses to answer them that the problems take on a strained, academic tone. Despite Ridgway's ambition, the book is mired by the main characters' puzzling disaffection toward one another. Grace has sunk too far into emotional stultification for readers to empathize with her, and Ridgway never quite saves selfish Martin from our contempt when he tosses his mother out. In short, this book's prevailing lack of love—and oddly complacent attitude toward this lack—may leave readers cold.

Jan Blodgett (review date 15 February 1998)

SOURCE: Review of The Long Falling, in Library Journal, February 15, 1998, p. 172.

[In the following review of The Long Falling, Blodgett observes that Ridgway "captures the bleakness and passion of contemporary Ireland."]

A family driven off-kilter by the accidental death of one son and held so by the increasing violence of the father. A country mired in debate about abortion and the rights of 14-year-old rape victims. A journalist too eager for a good story. A young gay man unable to trust. Irish writer Ridgway chillingly evokes the greyness that overtakes the lives of the Quinn family. At the center of the story is Grace Quinn, Irish but raised English and becoming neither, caught in a violent marriage and separated from her sons. The decision to kill her husband in the same way he had killed a young woman—to make him a hit-and-run victim—not only fails to free Grace but spills into the lives of her son Martin, his lover, Henry, their journalist friend Sean, a police officer, and a tender-hearted landlady. Grace's attempt to redeem her life takes place in the midst of Ireland's intense debate over a restraining order on a young pregnant woman. Writing in a clear prose style that never loses its balance, Ridgway captures the bleakness and passion of contemporary Ireland. For all fiction collections.

Jennie Ver Steeg (review date 1 March 1998)

SOURCE: A review of The Long Falling, in Booklist, March 1, 1998, p. 1096.

[In the following review, Ver Steeg is impressed with Ridgway's creative ability to establish setting and tone, but is critical of his characterization mechanics—describing them as "stilted" and contrived in some areas.]

Grace Quinn, an Englishwoman isolated by geography, nationality, and tragic circumstance in rural Ireland nearly all her life, has been brutalized by her husband since the accidental death of one child and the flight of another to Dublin after he revealed his homosexuality. Early in the novel, Grace kills her husband and travels to Dublin, but in the end, she is betrayed by a son whose motives are as flawed and mysterious as her own. Ridgway evokes place and mood beautifully, with shimmering description, and the reader feels Grace's "long falling." Some of the dialogue is stilted, though, and the character Mrs. Talbot, who appears near the end to help Grace hide, seems more a plot device than a denizen of the universe Ridgway has made. On the whole, however, this is a domestic tragedy featuring a firm sense of place and an expertly drawn portrait of alienation and loss.

Christina Patterson (review date 8 March 1998)

SOURCE: Review of The Long Falling, in Observer, March 8, 1998, p. 17.

[In the following review, Patterson notes the narrative voice, imagery, symbolism and warnings of hypocrisy in The Long Falling, but is leery of Ridgway's attempt to "link" the "disparate worlds" of old Irish tradition and new Irish freedom.]

It is not unusual for novels set in rural Ireland to depict drunken, violent, abusive husbands, but it is perhaps less common for the wife on the receiving end of such treatment to retaliate with murder. This is precisely what happens in Keith Ridgway's first novel, The Long Falling, and it's an act of apparent liberation that inevitably becomes a prison of its own.

From the opening descriptions on the first page of The Long Falling, it is clear that there is no room here for nostalgic notions of an Emerald Isle full of rosy-faced country folk in tune with the rhythms of nature. This is a harsh, brutal landscape, suited only to bad weather. The 'places of the country look different in the sun … as if brought by the clouds and dropped like litter … only in the rain can they hide'.

The reasons for this implied pathetic fallacy—a world shrouded in a mist of tears—soon become all too apparent, as we are introduced to downtrodden farmer's wife, Grace Quinn. An English woman who has never fully been accepted by the hostile local community, Grace leads a life of unremitting gloom. Her three-year-old son, Sean, drowned in a ditch one night as she was hanging out the washing.

Her lumbering husband, Michael, blames her, but he soon becomes a child-killer himself, knocking over a young girl on his way home from a drunken night at the pub. Now out of jail, he exercises his demons with vicious blows that send Grace flying across the bedroom. Neither thinks to mention it over the daily chop and two veg.

It's not difficult to see why Grace finds the sight of her husband kneeling at the roadside one night as she's driving home an irresistible temptation, but it's perhaps a little surprising that after doing the deed, which is far from instantaneous, she...

(The entire section is 906 words.)

Washington Post Book World (review date 3 May 1998)

SOURCE: Review of The Long Falling, in Washington Post Book World, May 3, 1998, p. 13.

[In the following review, the critic states that the emotional intricacies contained within The Long Falling are "thoroughly examined."]

The complex relationship between love, fear and betrayal is thoroughly examined in this debut novel by Ridgway, a young Dubliner. Ridgway's protagonist, Grace Quinn, is an Englishwoman who has lived her entire adult life in rural Ireland. Isolated by religion and circumstance, she has remained an outsider. Her isolation is exacerbated by an abusive husband (who blames her for the long-ago death of one of their sons) and an estranged...

(The entire section is 185 words.)

Rosemary Mahoney (review date 13 September 1998)

SOURCE: A review of The Long Falling, in The New York Times, September 13, 1998, p. 20.

[In the following review, Mahoney remarks that Ridgway has "seamlessly" woven "incendiary issues … into a story that is at times excruciatingly suspenseful."]

Grace Quinn is kind and gentle, a harmless woman, really. She lives in rural Ireland in fear of a husband who holds her responsible both for the drowning death of their son Sean and for the homosexuality of their surviving son, Martin. To put it mildly, Grace is long-suffering. For years she has endured appalling verbal abuse and vicious beatings from her often drunken husband—until one night she takes matters into...

(The entire section is 769 words.)