Anne Daly studied English at University College Dublin and subsequently studied for a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama. She lives and teaches in Drogheda, Co. Louth. She writes poetry and is currently working on her first collection.
On Syllables of Rain by D.S. Lliteras
Syllables of Rain by D.S. Lliteras is a short novel whose central narrator is Llewellyn, a man haunted by his experience of the Vietnam War. Following the break-up of his relationship, he returns to Baltimore, a city where in the past, as a homeless war veteran, he came under the influence of a mysterious Zen Buddhist named Jansen. There he reconnects with Cookie, another veteran and former follower of Jansen, whose life is similarly in disarray and both men embark on a spiritual journey which leads them to address their past experiences and confront their present identities.
Lliteras interweaves his prose with poetry, most notably drawing on the haiku format. Many of the chapters are very short and each one ends with a four-line verse that encapsulates the essence of the chapter. This approach can grate at times but provides the reader with glimpses of beauty amidst a story that is grounded firmly in the dirty pavements, steel shutters and broken glass of Baltimore. It also contributes to the quiet introspection of the central character, who through refrains and self-help style spiritualisms seeks to sooth his damaged mind. The dialogue is often riddle-like and unfinished, punctuating the central character’s sometimes heavy-handed metaphor-laden stream of consciousness.
The plot develops briskly and is nicely paced, infused with a truthfulness and depth that suggests that the author is drawing on personal experience. It tackles the difficult subject of post-war trauma and its devastating effect on mental health and personal relationships. Llewellyn and Cookie are refugees of an unpopular war, broken by their experiences and left to drift without any official help or support. Llewellyn’s loneliness and isolation is highlighted by his fixation on keeping the furniture that he owns, clinging to its links with the past and it its stolid constancy in a world of loss and confusion.
The style of the novel may not appeal to every reader, balancing precariously at times between meaningfulness and cliché. However, the author is adept at illustrating moments of epiphany in the mundanity of the everyday. Lliteras also beautifully captures the sense of loss that pervades the narrative where the biggest influences on the lives of the main characters are absent, only hinted at through snippets of conversation and the quiet hum of gunfire that can never quite be quenched. Overall, it is an interesting and uplifting read and is likely to appeal greatly to fans of the author’s other works.
Syllables of Rain
(Rainbow Ridge, 2018)
© 2019 Anne Daly