The Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey


I have made the unusual decision to stop reading this estimable book; though it has much to offer, I find it too oppressive for me at the moment. It was Reading Matters' review that was the impetus for reading it. She called it "an extraordinary portrait of an ordinary man," a good description. I'm finding that life too grim. 

The story of Farley begins in 2010 with his end: he is on the floor in his bathroom, having fallen or had a stroke. He is conscious, but unable to speak and can't quite remember why he had his suit cleaned the previous day. The next chapter tells the story of that day and subsequent chapters are dated with each decade of his life, ending with a chapter dated 1940.

As he lies on the bathroom floor Farley feels vague regret and thinks it could be his failure to turn on the light. He thinks "But he can see all he wants to see for the moment by the light of a lamp post outside; looking in at him like the cold eye of heaven." It goes from being the means for him to see to him being seen by death.

In the chapter telling about his previous day several times he experiences what I assume are precursors to a stroke. "Outside, the ground tilts as if it's moving away from him. And it feels as if he's slipping in slow motion — a patch of ice maybe? But when he looks down his feet are steady to the ground." And later "The woman still there, staring at him. She looks away and something about the way she does this makes Farley realize that the voice he's been hearing mumbling in the background, was his own." He spent that day getting ready for the funeral of his former business partner from whom he's been estranged for 10 years. He travels to various places in Dublin and is confused when he is looking for a business that has been gone for decades. He has moments of great headache pain that last a short time.

The story of his last day of work is another poignant one. One can tell that the financial settlement he was expecting for cashing out of the business he had thought was a partnership was going to be a bust. It was excruciating to wait for the crushing moment. My reading ended in the chapter which describes his care for his mother suffering from dementia.

On the very first page of this book set in Ireland are two references to jacks, which clearly referred to the toilet. A google search turned up this story in a Waterford news site which is entertaining, if not completely accurate.  I wonder if this term is widely used in Ireland. 

Christine Dwyer Hickey, The Cold Eye of Heaven, Atlantic Books, 2011, 215 pages. Available at the UVa library and from Amazon.

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