Spill Simmer Falter Wither

by Sara Baume

A debut novel already praised as “unbearably poignant and beautifully told” (Eimear McBride), this captivating story follows—over the course of four seasons—a misfit man who adopts a misfit dog.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544954618
  • ISBN-10: 0544954610
  • Pages: 304
  • Publication Date: 03/14/2017
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book
    Winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature * Winner of the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year Award * Short-listed for the Costa First Novel Award * Long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize * Long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award 2015, Readers’ Choice * Long-listed for the Warwick Prize for Writing 2015 * Long-listed for 2015 Edinburgh First Novel Award 

     

    “A deeply attuned portrait of the human mind…An unsettling literary surprise of the best sort.”—Atlantic 

     

    “This book is like a flame in daylight: beautiful and unexpected.”—Anne Enright 

      

    It is springtime, and two outcasts—a man ignored, even shunned by his village, and the one-eyed dog he takes into his quiet, tightly shuttered life—find each other, by accident or fate, and forge an unlikely connection. As their friendship grows, their small, seaside town falsely perceives menace where there is only mishap—and the duo must take to the road. 

     

    Gorgeously written in poetic and mesmerizing prose, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is one of those rare stories that utterly and completely imagines its way into a life most of us would never see. It transforms us in our understanding not only of the world, but also of ourselves. 

      

    “A man-and-his-dog story like no other.”—San Francisco Chronicle 

      

    “[Spill Simmer Falter Wither] hums with its own distinctiveness.”— Guardian (UK) 

      

    “A tour de force...A stunning and wonderful achievement by a writer touched by greatness.” 

    —Joseph O’Connor, for the Irish Times

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  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    PROLOGUE 

      

    He is running, running, running. 

       And it’s like no kind of running he’s ever run before. He’s the surge that burst the dam and he’s pouring down the hillslope, channelling through the grass to the width of his widest part. He’s tripping into hoof-rucks. He’s slapping groundsel stems down dead. Dandelions and chickweed, nettles and dock. 

       This time, there’s no chance for sniff and scavenge and scoff. There are no steel bars to end his lap, no chain to jerk at the limit of its extension, no bellowing to trick and bully him back. This time, he’s further than he’s ever seen before, past every marker along the horizon line, every hump and spork he learned by heart. 

       It’s the season of digging out. It’s a day of soft rain. There’s wind enough to tilt the slimmer trunks off kilter and drizzle enough to twist the long hairs on his back to a mop of damp curls. There’s blood enough to gush into his beard and spatter his front paws as they rise and plunge. And there’s a hot, wet thing bouncing against his neck. It’s the size of a snailshell and it makes a dim squelch each time it strikes. It’s attached to some gristly tether dangling from some leaked part of himself, but he cannot make out the what nor the where of it. 

       Were he to stop, were he to examine the hillslope and hoof-rucks and groundsel and dandelions and chickweed and nettles and dock, he’d see how the breadth of his sight span has been reduced by half and shunted to his right side, how the left is pitch black until he swivels his head. But he doesn’t stop, and notices only the cumbersome blades, the spears of rain, the upheaval of tiny insects and the blood spilling down the wrong side of his coat, the outer when it ought to be the inner. 

       He is running, running, running. And there’s no course or current to deter him. There’s no impulse from the root of his brain to the roof of his skull which says other than RUN. 

       He is One Eye now. 

       He is on his way. 

      

    SPILL 

      

    You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town. 

       You’re Sellotaped to the inside pane of the jumble shop window. A photograph of your mangled face and underneath an appeal for a COMPASSIONATE & TOLERANT OWNER. A PERSON WITHOUT OTHER PETS & WITHOUT CHILDREN UNDER FOUR. The notice shares street-facing space with a sheepskin overcoat, a rubberwood tambourine, a stuffed wigeon and a calligraphy set. The overcoat’s sagged and the tambourine’s punctured. The wigeon’s trickling sawdust and the calligraphy set’s likely to be missing inks or nibs or paper, almost certainly the instruction leaflet. There’s something sad about the jumble shop, but I like it. I like how it’s a tiny refuge of imperfection. I always stop to gawp at the window display and it always makes me feel a little less horrible, less strange. But I’ve never noticed the notices before. There are several, each with a few lines of text beneath a hazy photograph. Altogether they form a hotchpotch of pleading eyes, foreheads worried into furry folds, tails frozen to a hopeful wag. The sentences underneath use words like NEUTERED, VACCINATED, MICROCHIPPED, CRATE-TRAINED. Every wet nose in the window is alleged to be searching for its FOREVER HOME. 

       I’m on my way to purchase a box-load of incandescent bulbs because I can’t bear the dimness of the energy savers, how they hesitate at first and then build to a parasitic humming so soft it hoaxes me into thinking some part of my inner ear has cracked, or some vital vessel of my frontal lobe. I stop and fold my hands and examine the fire-spitting dragon painted onto the tambourine’s stretched skin and the wigeon’s bright feet bolted to a hunk of ornamental cedar, its wings pinioned to a flightless expansion. And I wonder if the calligraphy set is missing its instruction leaflet. 

       You’re Sellotaped to the bottommost corner. Your photograph is the least distinct and your face is the most grisly. I have to bend down to inspect you and as I move, the shadows shift with my bending body and blank out the glass of the jumble shop window, and I see myself instead. I see my head sticking out of your back like a bizarre excrescence. I see my own mangled face peering dolefully from the black. 

      

      

    The shelter is a forty-minute drive and three short, fat cigarettes from home. It occupies a strip of land along the invisible line at which factories and housing estates give way to forests and fields. There are rooftops on one side, treetops on the other. Concrete underfoot and chainlink fencing all around, its PVC-coated diamonds rattling with the anxious quivers of creatures MISTREATED, ABANDONED, ABUSED. Adjacent to the diamonds, there’s a flat-headed building with unsound walls and a cavity block wedged under each corner. A signpost rises from the cement. RECEPTION, it says, REPORT ON ARRIVAL. 

       I’m not the kind of person who is able to do things. I don’t feel very good about climbing the steps and pushing the door, but I don’t feel very good about disobeying instructions either. My right hand finds my left hand and they hold each other. Now I step up and they knock as one. The door falls open. Inside there’s a woman sitting behind a large screen between two filing cabinets. There’s something brittle about her. She seems small in proportion to the screen, but it isn’t that. It’s in the way the veins of each temple rise through her skin; it’s in the way her eyelids are the colour of a climaxing bruise. 

       ‘Which one?’ she says and shows me a sheet of miniature photographs. As I place the tip of my index finger against the tip of your miniaturised nose, she ever-so-slightly smiles. I sign a form and pay a donation. The brittle woman speaks into a walkie-talkie and now there’s a kennel keeper waiting outside the flat-headed office. I hadn’t imagined it might be so uncomplicated as this. 

       He’s a triangular man. Loafy shoulders tapering into flagpole legs, the silhouette of a root vegetable. He’s carrying a collar and leash. He swings them at his side and talks loudly as he guides me through the shelter. ‘That cur’s for the injection I said, soon’s I saw him, and wouldn’cha know, straight off he sinks his chompers into a friendly fella’s cheek and won’t let go. That fella, there.’ 

       The kennel keeper points to a copper-coated cocker spaniel in a cage with a baby blanket and a burger-shaped squeak toy. The spaniel looks up as we pass and I see a pair of pink punctures in the droop of his muzzle. ‘Vicious little bugger. Had to prise his jaws loose and got myself bit in the process. Won’t be learning his way out of a nature like that. Another day, y’know, and he’d a been put down.’ 

       I nod, even though the kennel keeper isn’t looking at me. I picture him at home in a house where all of the pot plants belong to his wife and the front garden’s been tarmacked into an enormous driveway. His walls are magnolia and his kitchen cupboards are stocked with special toasting bread and he uses the bread not only for toasting, but for everything. ‘Any good for ratting?’ I say. 

       ‘Good little ratter alright,’ the kennel keeper says, ‘there he ...

  • Reviews
    Winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for 2015 

    Winner of the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year Award (Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2015) 

    Short-listed for the Costa First Novel Award 

    Long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize  

    Long-listed for The Guardian First Book Award 2015, A Readers' Choice 

    Long-listed for the Warwick Prize for Writing 2015 

    Long-listed for 2015 Edinburgh First Novel Award 

    ?Nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award 2017 

    One of NPR's "Best Books of 2016" 

    Barnes & Noble Spring 2016 Discover Great New Writers  

    March 2016 Indie Next Pick 

    2016 Winter/Spring Indies Introduce Pick 

     

    "A tour de force.... No writer since JM Coetzee or Cormac McCarthy has written about an animal with such intensity. This is a novel bursting with brio, braggadocio and bite. Again and again it wows you with its ambition…At its heart is a touching and inspiriting sense of empathy, that rarest but most human of traits. Boundaries melt, other hearts become knowable…This book is a stunning and wonderful achievement by a writer touched by greatness."—Joseph O'Connor, for The Irish Times 

     

    “This book is like a flame in daylight: beautiful and unexpected. It packs a big effect for something that seems so slight, and almost hard to see.”—Anne Enright 

     

    “Unbearably poignant and beautifully told.”—Eimear McBride, author of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing 

     

    “A deeply attuned portrait of the human mind…An unsettling literary surprise of the best sort. This first novel’s voice is singular in its humility and imaginative range…Baume’s novel revels in aesthetic leaps and dives, embracing the poetry of sensory experience in all its baffling beauty from the title onward…Baume’s prose makes sure we look and listen. Her book insists we take notice.”—The Atlantic 

     

    "[Baume] has a way with words...As you sink into the rhythms of Baume's prose, you can almost smell the salt air and feel the sting of a small town that can be unforgiving to those who are different."—NPR, "Best Books of 2016" 

     

    “Extraordinary . . . Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a heartbreaking read, and heralds Baume as a major new talent.” —Independent on Sunday 

     

    "A deft and moving debut...To capture this constrained setting and quiet character requires specific skills, which Baume has in spades...It’s not easy to tell such a sparse tale, to be so economic with story, but the book hums with its own distinctiveness, presenting in singing prose an unforgettable landscape peopled by two unlikely Beckettian wanderers, where hope is not yet lost."—The Guardian 

     

    "A man-and-his-dog story like no other."—San Francisco Chronicle, "Recommendations from Book Passage" 

     

    “[A] lovely book…destined to become a small classic of animal communion literature.”—Wall Street Journal 

     

    “Captivating...Rich with incident and gorgeously depicted through Baume’s precise, lapidary prose...[Baume] displays wisdom beyond her years in this compassionate tale.”—BookPage 

     

    "[Baume’s] rhythmic, intimate prose abounds with startling sights, smells and sounds...[Her] sympathy for her 'wonkety' characters is infectious and their relationship – in all its drama and ordinariness – beautifully conveyed. Places and smells, plants and animals are conjured with loving attention, the narrative propelled by a striking linguistic intensity...Baume’s capacity for wonder turns this portrait of an unusual friendship into a powerful meditation on humanity."—New Statesman 

     

    "Sara Baume is a novelist to watch."—Daily Mail 

     

    “Ambitious and impressive . . . Baume’s engaging, intriguing and brightly original first novel may mark a comparably significant debut.”—Times Literary Supplement 

      

    "Told in splendid prose, with lyrical descriptions of the landscape, it’s an involving story and possibly the best first novel to emerge from Ireland since Eimear McBride’s debut."—The Herald UK 

     

    “One of the most quietly devastating books of the year…With Spill Simmer Falter Wither she has created a dark, tender portrait of what it’s like to live life on the margins.”—Sydney Morning Herald 

     

    "[A] joltingly original debut … Baume charts the growing dependency between these two stray souls with remarkable deftness and almost unbearable poignancy."—Mail on Sunday UK 

     

    "Sara Baume’s exquisite debut has a simple plot: an outcast man and his dog One Eye take to the road in a ramshackle car and watch the world, weather and seasons change as they drive through the highways and byways of Ireland. But the prose is full of wonder, inventive, poetic and dazzling, concerned with the smallest detail of the natural landscape and the terrain of human emotion, as Baume heartbreakingly describes how an ordinary life can falter and stall."—Sunday Express UK, "The best books about memories, misfits and mysteries" 

     

    "[A] fine debut...Baume succeeds in reawakening her reader's capacity for wonder...so much so that the book and its one-eyed dog became companions I was loathe to leave."—Observer (The Guardian)  

     

    "A mesmerising debut."—Telegraph, Featured at #8 in the "Autumn Arts Preview" 

     

    "Every so often a book comes along that is so perfect it takes your breath away, and leaves your heart hammering with the beauty of the writing and the sadness of the story.  Sara Baume’s debut, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, is such a book…Baume’s prose is full of wonder – inventive, poetic and dazzling, concerned with the smallest details of the natural landscape and the terrains of human emotion.  Absolutely astounding."—Psychologies, "Book of the Month" 

     

    "A vivid debut that shows that Baume is a talent to keep an eye on…a sweepingly poetic and heartbreaking meditation on life after grief that I won’t quickly forget."—Times Educational Supplement 

     

    "An important and quite brilliant new Irish writing talent."—Irish Independent 

     

    "An ambitious stylist with an astonishing eye for detail and a clear passion for language. But it is the beautifully measured control of plot and the authenticity of the narrative voice that most impresses."—Irish Examiner 

      

    "A subtle and powerful story about a man and his dog … Baume is in terrific control of her prose … her portrayal of her characters and her setting leap off the page … I look forward to whatever she writes next."—Big Issue UK 

     

    "A touching tale about a misfit man finding a misfit dog provides lots of opportunity for exploring what it is to b...

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