The Original 1989 Edition
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1989
ISBN 0 297 79492 2
Disturbance is a wickedly funny, yet horrifying story of obsession, of the macabre, of things that prey on the mind.
Nilus Moore, a young Irish boy, lives with his father in their decaying and shambolic house. Taking refuge in his room, he frenetically makes and re-makes a fifty-thousand-piece matt black jigsaw, associating the completion of the exact flat symmetrical shape with the death of his mother, yet unable to tolerate a single missing piece. On the surface, Nilus is calm, silent, fastidious. He takes in paying guests – Mrs Houlihan, a medium; a blind piano accordionist; Father Mulcahy, a defrocked priest – trying to maintain some sort of order.
But his father has taken to his bed where he spends the days smelling of garlic and soaked with brandy. Nilus’s Uncle Frank, a property developer, is intent on demolishing the house; and Aunt Agnes never misses a chance of popping in to see how Nilus is getting on.
The atmosphere becomes alarming: more plaster falls off the walls and the stench of garlic and decay is overwhelming. Nilus, meticulously, notices every detail – a chipped cup, the number of sugar lumps in the sugar bowl, the squeak of Aunt Agnes’s plastic raincoat – as he battles within himself to keep control of his senses.
In this potent and poetic first novel, Jamie O’Neill has created a disquieting picture of a mind disordered yet obsessed with order, a haunting and witty combination of the surreal and traditional, and a chilling tribute to the power of the imagination.