A Sudden Sun
A 'poignant and powerful' examination of bereavement in a changing Derry City by author Dave Duggan
Some decades back it would have seemed inconceivable that a Derry male could write a Derry woman’s story. It took Brian Friel a while, and then Frank McGuinness’s The Factory Girls appeared from down the road – Buncrana, to be precise, just across the border in Donegal.
Best known as a playwright whose work addresses socio-political issues within a community context – see Plays on a Peace Process – with the release of his second novel, A Sudden Sun, Dave Duggan could be said to have completed a North West trio of authors to have successfully recreated a local heroine's voice.
All shades of borders real and metaphorical are drawn by this trio of writers. Duggan is originally from Waterford and described geographical transportation from a home to rootlessness in his first novel, The Greening of Larry Mahon. But it is the human border between mental breakdown and recovery which is so beautifully and tenuously drawn in A Sudden Sun.
Donna Bradley is married to Tony and they live an ordinary life in an ordinary two up, two down house on an ordinary street in Derry~Londonderry. The everyday contentment of the ordinary is shattered when Donna gives birth to her stillborn daughter, Teresa.
From the silent isolation of clinical depression, Donna moves towards awareness of the city’s campaign against a toxic waste plant. She becomes confident in small achievements and moves towards the long haul of education to eventually become a Local Authority Officer in Waste Management.
Duggan has Donna writing her own story as personal therapy, an attempt at some kind of healing and acceptance of intense tragedy and grief, the personal paralleling the city of Derry’s own journey towards its slow and torturous rebirth.
Narrative facts are completed early on in this journey to give way to an exceptional technical expertise, which concentrates on explication of an inner journey, an expiation of grief usually hidden from the outside world and perhaps beyond its comprehension.
Loss tastes like burnt toast. Black and crunchy, teeth-grating and grim, loss is life overdone. You can scrape it with a knife, a blade honed by your best intentions, your plans for a new life, your commitment to making a future for yourself and, though you will manage to scrape off the outer flakes of the burnt bread of life, you will never totally remove the sordid taste of it.
From here, Duggan begins to spin numerous parallel threads of silk to forward Donna’s own delicate journey and, as readers, ours alike. The analogy of waste predominates with Donna referring to her own body as a ‘waste incinerator’ and cogently following strategies of waste management in her professional role to discover some personal catharsis.
En route there are myriads of wonderfully understated observations. Office politics and behaviours, staff pecking orders and their concomitant minor deceptions form a backdrop to the River Foyle, one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe and site for protagonist, Donna’s happiest times.
They include a first date, an epiphany with a visiting colleague from Africa, her office view in professional achievement. Interspersed is Duggan’s exceptional theatre ear for dialect as he captures Derry’s ‘Thank God’ – the quotidian elevation of the mundane to religious heights of grandeur – ‘Lovely day, thank God. I got in and out of the hairdressers in good time, thank God.'
We should all thank Duggan for such a poignant and powerful rendition of loss, beautifully written and so perfectly crafted. A Sudden Sun, produced with Arts Council of Northern Ireland support, should be read by two principal groups – those who have experienced such bereavement and those who have not. That means all of us.
A Sudden Sun is published by Guildhall Press.