Bill Collopy captured the judges’ attention
with his powerful style and playful, innovative prose echoes of dear
old Faulkner and is, in a word, daring.
The novel begins with the question of perception. Considering his uncertain place in the world as well as within that of his family, the young, reclusive protagonist Finbar is revealed as one whose own sanity teeters a fine, unfettered line:
At the dining table Finbar refused to talk. Taking meals underneath, he gazed no longer at faces, only boots and sandals. He spoke to ankles, answered questions from legs. After meals he scampered back up the tree to sharpen pencils. His shavings curled like a summoning finger.
Through his gifts of acute memory and sensitivity, Finbar steps tentatively into the role of central witness to the Given family’s unfolding as he treads the shifting sand of this poetic narrative. The protagonist’s interior evolution effectively mirrors the instability and gradual maturation of our own perceptions of what is truly real within the collective thoughts, feelings and memory of our own families.
As the story progresses and more hints are given regarding the tangled nature of communal history, the question of an individual’s sanity evolves into a sympathetic vision of how families are also quite simply “a comical mad chain of fools” where, according to Finbar’s Gran, “Enduring isn’t everything. But I grant you that some people are better at looking after others than themselves.”
House of Given reflects on the gentle insistence of love with a sparkling lyricism. Despite the strains and impositions people place upon it, especially within the close confines of family—despite secrets, guilt, sorrow and silence—Collopy’s novel illustrates a belief that love’s essential nature beckons revelation. And sometimes revelations emerge through the very notion that, “Families have a way of scratching each other’s sores.” Lineage and living collide, offering sacrifice, reconciliation and truth as an answer to the question of identity within family:
Then they came.
Running towards him, pouring from doorways: old and young, wearing sandals and headscarves and shawls, their ears and fingers ringed, limbs painted, wrists bangled, spears in hands; with clubs, knives, tinkers and gypsies and black men and horsemen, whipping the air, and crying out his name.
Each one had a story and he met them all at once, tales layered as no music could be, springing from a grave in reverse births, from a time before the oldest of tongues, Pict and Celt and Persian, eyes bloody with greed, voices offering to take him to their bosom.
‘ Slán abhaile,’ they shouted. ‘Cad is ainm duit.’
The characters of House of Given reveal a story of family as we all know it to one extent or another, and of life, the fragile kind in which we all, sooner or later, find ourselves.
– Lauren Daniels, for the judges, IP Pick 2006
Winner, Best Fiction, IP Picks 2006.
House of Given is a book about building and a
builder of stories. Convinced that he is connected to this world by a mere
thread, young Finbar refuses to submit to a fate of poor health. Despite
lacking a builder’s strength, he determines to overcome obstacles of
distrust and self-doubt, constructing his personal edifice not from earth
or wood but out of story and imagination. He assembles a multi-generational
saga and, in the process, discovers that his bloodlines amount to a thousand
and one interlocking narratives.
In his Scheherazade-like attempt to stave off doom, the young man appoints himself a bard of parallel old cultures transplanted to an even older land. Inside each uncovered ancestry, he finds story at its core; forming part of family DNA and the atomic structure of every mythology and civilization.
Story is his means of perception, and how he enters the world.
Born and educated in Melbourne, where he
lives with his wife and children, Bill manages to squeeze in family, writing,
reading and music while managing welfare programs, and teaching creative
writing for adults.
He has won various literary prizes and seen some two dozen of his stories published in Australia and overseas in magazines such as Dublin Quarterly, Going Down Swinging, LinQ, Eclectica and Verandah. This is his first novel.