Manacles 6–3.5.

By Robert Whyte


Manacles, a novel by Robert Whyte 1972–2020

Introduction by Robert Hanna

Table of Contents

Supporting Documents



I woke from a deep sleep and lay in my bed in the dark. My legs felt cold and damp. A dream was ebbing away towards the cartesian horizon leaving behind it a soft smell of sea as though I had been wrapped in kelp but my struggles had set me free to float to the surface. I wondered if everybody woke up feeling this way. It seemed perfectly natural. It was probably the smell of sweat and dead skin cells. Squamous.

That’s a nice word. I should use it. Skwah-moose. Scaly. Snakes are squamous. Better not though, it will make people think of cancer. They say you can’t catch cancer it just happens, it’s not contagious. Being boring about cancer is contagious. If you don’t make the sympathetic dismay face and the awww ohhhh noises people think you’re a heartless arrogant prick and weird and then they’re just waiting for you to be arrested for indecency or cruelty to pigeons or something, saying I always knew there was something wrong with him. At least they know who to eat when the plane goes down to keep the race pure.

Waking up is hard to do. Dooby doo, down down, comma, comma, down. Comma comma? Surely not. Punctuation lyrics? Even Neil Sedaka wouldn’t stoop so low. It must be comma, karma. So that’s where Boy George got it.

Waking up. You feel like you are completely empty and maybe you are, unless you are still dreaming in which case you feel like a chance encounter between a braille typewriter and a blue-ringed octopus on a billiard table. Empty, except nature abhors a vacuum so things rush in and if you didn’t leave a worthy thought unfinished when you fell asleep you are likely to get any old stray rubbish filling up your head.

Where was I? Now I remember. Slowly, I began to piece together the threads of my novel and other stray memories in the form of glistening trails and phosphors, not to mention farts, nosebleeds and belly laughs, two by two on the ark of the writer’s craft, the setting, the scene, its characters and plot twists, its unreliable narrators and back story, bringing the whole process to a stage where I could begin again. Even as I was thinking this, I was aware my thoughts were an echo of some other and, let’s face it, probably funnier lines clearly lifted directly from At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien in which was written:

I closed my eyes, hurting slightly my right sty and retired into the kingdom of my mind. For a time there was complete darkness and an absence of movement on the part of the cerebral mechanism. The bright square of the window was faintly evidenced at the juncture of my lids. One book, one opening, was a principle with which I did not find it possible to concur.

The hillsides in the valley were rustling and moving restlessly, still encumbered with rolling, heaving sleep. The faint greyish light of the morning was gradually replacing the withdrawing night. I’m not sure how I knew this, since I had not yet opened my eyes,

The problem with real life was its similarity to fiction. If you think about it, it’s very hard to tell the two apart. I was awake, but beyond this, there was very little to go on. Not that it mattered. I was writing. But if I wasn’t, I might want to make sure I wasn’t here for some other purpose. Like life itself. Ha ha. Like life its very self. Or something else.

If you look in any direction, you see everything in that direction. But what else can you see? Nothing really, unless you look in another direction, then you can see in that direction, but you can’t remember anything you saw before.

It’s the same if you drive somewhere. The map isn’t rendered when you’re a way off, only when it’s right there around you. When you start out, you head for some point which is roughly in the right direction. When you get there, the next bit of the map becomes clearer and more detailed and you can navigate from there. There’s really is no point trying to figure out the whole journey from start to finish.

When you get up as far as you can tell you are entirely there, kind of three dimensional or at least shaded and with highlights giving an incredibly good impression of three-dimensionality. You can twist to one side, yes, it’s all there and twist to the other side, ditto, making sure no one sees you doing this because it looks absurd. You can convince yourself you are all there, sometimes a bit worse for wear, but substantial and just like everyone else. But have you noticed no one ever looks at themselves from behind? In fact, no one else looks at anything from the point of view of whatever they are looking at. This is clearly either a physical impossibility or a psychological inability. I had talked to Charles about this, not the Charles in my book but the real Charles, the character Charles was based on and yes, I know I should have changed his name, but I didn’t, sosumi.

Charles wasn’t interested in either a physical impossibility or a psychological inability. Instead, he wanted to know where the book was set.

“Anywhere.” I said.

“It can’t be just anywhere.” He made a dismissive face with his lips and actually turned his nose up, or wrinkled it trying to.

“Why not?”

“There’s no appeal in anywhere,” he said, “it may as well be nowhere.”

“So where then?”

“It’s not my book,” he said, “it’s your decision.” I noticed he hadn’t shaved. Each facial hair was standing up in close proximity to its neighbour, young enough to still be sturdy and sharp, but old enough to present a substantial growth from follicle to tip and I could not help but think, this man can grow a beard!

“I was just wanting it to be anywhere people might identify with, but generic enough it could appeal to anyone,” I said.

“Great,” Charles said. “City blancmange.”


“Your decision.” He turned his hands palm up in the air and assumed the disinterested air of a rhetorical question.

“Does it matter?”

“Not at all, Coober Pedy, for instance, would be ideal. Opal capital of the world, which translates as where the fuck and who cares?”

“That bad?”

“It’s your book,” he said. Maybe there was an imperceptible trace of impatience in his voice. His face however, with wide staring eyes, seemed to be saying C’mon, surely you’re not this dumb.




“Zzzzzzz. Zzzzzzz.”

“You are a hard man. What then?”

He smiled at me. His smile was so great. Cheeky and knowing, genuine and fake, but genuinely fake, as if there was a huge ball of hope and promise behind it.

“New York?” I said.

He laughed. “What would you know about New York?”

“Skyscrapers, yellow taxis, muggings and a fucking huge park in the middle?”

“Fine, New York it is.”


“Why not?”

Why not indeed. Except it was patently ridiculous, impossible to carry off and would only end in tears. Fuck it. I’ll go back to basics and take the default option. Dublin. What people outside Ireland know about Dublin you could write on the side of a very small aardvark.

Charles had the air of a Spanish mechanic about him tonight, best to let him go off and do whatever something better to do was occupying his mind. Maybe it was too early for him. He wasn’t an early riser, or if he was it was because he was up to something. I wish there was someone I could talk to about this.

– There might be, bedad, said the voice of James Joyce.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

“Who’s there?”

– And who d’you think it might be?

“But you’re dead!”

– Dead you say. Oh well, have it your own way.

“No, don’t go, now you’re here.”

– I’m glad you said that, lad, I haven’t had the opportunity to stretch me gossamer of late and in fact the last chap who had the gall to invoke me was your man O’Brien.

“Yes, I remember, he had you darning socks for the Jesuits,” I said.

“Indeed. A very funny man. Bit of a grump, but very funny.”

I moved my eyelids apart imperceptibly and peeked through the crack to see if some ghostly vision was accompanying the voice of James Joyce. I didn’t expect there to be. I wouldn’t be able to tell exactly without opening my eyes wider which seemed like way too much of a bother. It was much more pleasant lying there half-asleep chatting in my head to the author of Ulysses, voted novel of the 20th century by the Modern Library.

– What would they know? the voice said. A motley gaggle of carpetbaggers and misfits, I have no idea who half of them were, the only name I recognise is your man Gore Vidal and that man was an illiterate, like all politicians.

“So you’ve been keeping up,” I said.

– Oh yes, I get all the clippings where I meself is the topic in question.

“You know about Gilbert Sorrentino?” I asked, not without a certain glib tone.

– Oh yes, author of that great pile of dog’s vomit he called Mulligan’s Stew and he takes my man Halpin from me Wake and gives him a right thrashing.

“You didn’t like it?”

– To be sure, I laughed so hard I perforated me ulcer and died.

“You can’t blame him for wanting to follow in your footsteps,” I said. “We all did. My A Boy and the World is your Portrait and my Manacles is your Ulysses.” I said.

– Oh, is it now, and what is your Finnegans Wake, might I ask? I hope you make a better fist of it than I did mine, certainly I don’t understand a word of it, but I get the idea, all right. It seemed the right thing to do at the time and as long as I kept getting the cheques I thought I had better keep on doing it.

“So it was only about the money? What about the art?”

– Don’t make laugh, lad, I’ll perforate me ulcer again you wouldn’t find it entertaining at all. I agree with your man Cleckly who said it was erudite gibberish indistinguishable to most people from the familiar word-salad produced by hebephrenic patients in the back wards of any State hospital. Although, I don’t know about erudite, that’s a bit rich for my blood.

“Why did you write it if you didn’t understand it?

– Oh, I love me writing to be sure. I’ll scribble till I die, again, if I ever do, it’s in me blood, or in me excrement to be more precise and all because I got meself mixed up with your eschatological and scatological, not that they are worlds apart mind, an easy mistake to make. And what of mine do you like the most yourself, now.

“I like Buck Mulligan,” I said.

– A gobshite, said the voice

“And Stephen Dedalus.”

– A mewling infant.”

“Not even Leopold Bloom?”

– Oh, stop it lad, you’re killing me. There goes the ulcer. I’ll be a terrible mess.

“You really don’t like it?”

– Pretentious claptrap, said the voice.

“But it’s my inspiration. I mean, you. You’re my inspiration.”

“Oh, and that’s no secret now with all your forty-four thousand versions of me words and your going round like a gob-smacked idjit having your epiphanies every ten minutes like they were farts out of your bum.

“I admin it’s derivative. But it’s an homage.”

Homage my arse. More like dommage, more’s the pity, that evil stuff with aubergine and snot and garlic ponging right through a lead vest.

“That’s baba ghanoush.”

–You know what I mean. Tell me did you read my books all the way through, at all?”

“Of course.”

– Now come on lad, be honest now.

“Well, I might have skipped a few bits.”

– That’s more like it and very wise too.

The voice trailed off as it said these words. I waited for it to return, but it didn’t. I lay there feeling somewhat foolish and crestfallen. It had certainly given me something to think about.

The day was now full-blown, honking daylight with bells, clackers and whistles, making it difficult to hang onto the shreds of sleep as they slithered off to hide in the shadows, under carpets, rocks and tectonic plates or wherever sleep goes to hide in the wake of spent dreams.

I opened my eyes and tried to stand up without falling down, something which could only be accomplished slowly. I found a blue dressing gown and wrapped myself in it, noticing more than one physical memory of spilt tea, wine, gravy or bodily fluids. There was such a thing as a washing machine, but I did not know where it was.

In fact, I never knew where anything was unless it was immediate. This house, flat, tenement, let’s call it a built structure of some kind, was only reasonably rendered where I was. The window was full of sky, relatively useless for pinpointing one’s location. There may have been other rooms, an upstairs and a downstairs, roads, rates and rubbish, all further afield but I could never be sure without going there and taking a look.

I was not sure to what extent my circumstances were convenient rather than immutable and real, but they did seem somehow contingent upon my immediate needs rather than a world I inhabited with another three and a half or more billion people, but I suppose everyone feels this because wherever you go you take yourself with you, a powerful reminder that your own being, or self, is very hard to get away from. I suppose you could wake up in a completely alien situation if you were hoovered up by a passing spaceship, but it wasn’t really my style.

The kitchen was where I expected it to be, but beyond that there were areas of hazy uncertainty. It didn’t matter. The kitchen was nice enough. Near my bed, where I had been honestly lying, the sky was usually grey. Sometimes it was ominous with darkening, oddly-shaped clouds scudding ahead of a blustering wind. In the kitchen, however, it was always bright and sunny, due to a wall-mounted sun, blazing golden-yellow like a pat of fresh butter nailed to the side of a ship, thawing the crackling cold of the morning air. There was a big dial to control the volume of the birds whose idiotic ecstasy surged in a kind of mesmeric static at full volume but quite pleasant turned nearly all the way down. There were steps from a landing down to a steep lawn flecked with pieces of granite and chert, a few blades of grass and underneath it, schist. The presence of schist dominating the geology suggested a history of metamorphosis, resulting in large, flat grains of mineral in layers of micas and hornblende, interleaved with quartz and feldspars, even garnets, or whatever the moveable feats of heat and pressure could get up to during the night to turn clays and muds into shales, slates and phyllites before giving them a final squeeze with the thermal handshake to schist up. But it was wise not to take anything for granted, some days you just got cliffs of tuff.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 25 July 2019

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo


Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.