Spill Simmer Falter Wither (Baume)

Spill Simmer Falter Wither 
Sara Baume, 2015 (2016, U.S.)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780544716193

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.

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 suddenly takes note of them, falsely perceiving menace where there is only mishap; the unlikely duo must take to the road.
Gorgeously written in poetic and mesmerizing prose, Spill Simmer Falter Wither has already garnered wild support in its native Ireland, where the Irish Times pointed to Baume’s "astonishing power with language" and praised it as "a novel bursting with brio, braggadocio and bite."

It is also a moving depiction of how—over the four seasons echoed in the title—a relationship between fellow damaged creatures can bring them both comfort. One of those rare stories that utterly, completely imagines its way into a life most of us would never see, it transforms us not only in our understanding of the world, but also of ourselves. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Lancashire, England (UK)
Raised—County Cork, Ireland
Education—M.F.A., Trinity College
Awards—Davy Byrnes Short Story Award
Currently—lives in County Cork, Ireland

Sara Baume has always immersed herself in images. In addition to being a highly acclaimed debut author (yes, "debut"—attaining resounding success with her very first novel), she is also a visual artist. It is an artistic sensibility that finds its way into her writing:

First and foremost I see; I see the world and then I describe it.... I don't know another way to write. I always anchor everything in an image.

That anchoring is clearly evident in her 2015 novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Critics have praised the book's vivid, poetic, even "dazzling" descriptions of the natural landscape.

Baume's short fiction has appeared in The Moth, Stinging Fly, Irish Independent, and other publications. Her story, "Solesearcher1," won the prestigious Davy Byrnes Award. Simmer Falter actually began as a short story before morphing into a novella and eventually into a full-fledged novel.
Baume was born in a caravan in Lancaster, England; her English father worked on rural gaslines, so the family traveled from place to place. But when there came to be too many children to fit in the van, they settled down in her mother's home country of Ireland. Lyndsay was four when the family moved to County Cork, and it is where she lives today with her two dogs. (Adapted from interviews with NPR and Totally Dublin. Retrieved 3/20/2016.)

Be sure to visit the author's blog.

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

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 - Irish Times

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 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.
Guardian (UK)

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.
Herald (UK)

"[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)

[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-Guardian (UK)

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

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

An unsettling literary surprise of the best sort. This first novel’s voice is singular in its humility and imaginative range.... What gives Baume’s book its startling power…is her portrait of an unexpectedly protean mind at work.... Baume’s prose makes sure we look and listen. Her book insists we take notice.

[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

(Starred review.) This haunting debut novel by an award-winning Irish short story writer will appeal to readers who don't mind a little darkness in their dog stories. The detailed and almost poetic descriptions of the natural world as the seasons change add an element of enchantment to this lovely story. —Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green
Library Journal

Elegant, heartbreaking, and inspiring.... The lyric, lilting style of Baume’s voice will endear even animal non-lovers to her thrilling and transformative story. With echoes of Mark Haddon’s narrative style and a healthy dose of empathy for the lost and lonely among us, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a superlative first novel.

[I]t seems unreal that Ray could grow up without attending school and without any social services intervention. Baume perhaps means to make a statement about marginalized people..., but something doesn't quite ring true in Ray's isolation. The vague, sad ending doesn't help.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

1. Describe Ray. Why is he such an outcast? What about him makes the villagers keep their distance, even shun him? How would you react to Ray?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: In what way are Ray and One-Eye alike? Talk about how man's and dog's pasts have left them deeply scarred? In other words, how have their pasts shaped them both?

3. Talk about the presence of Ray's father, even though he died 18 months before the opening of the book. What role does he play in Ray's life, now and in the past?

4. Ray tells One Eye: "You have to learn to fathom your way through a world of which you are frightened." How do the two "fathom their way" together? How do you fathom your way through life?

5. We originally think of Ray as inward, trapped within himself and unable to focus on others. Yet it turns out he is attuned to others in an unusual way. He's ever curious, once asking Ray, for instance, "what exactly people do, all day long, every day?" Find other examples of how Ray thinks about people or animals?

6. Ray says to One Eye: "I wish I’d been born with your capacity for wonder." Does Ray, by the story's end acquire that capacity, or has he had it all along? By the end of the book, have you felt wonder?

7. Talk about the quality of compassion, which stands at the center of this book. Start with the advertisement for One Eye, which asks for a "compassionate and tolerant owner." Where else does compassion come into play...and importantly, where (or in whom) is it missing?

8. Baume's use of the second-person narrative is unusual. Why might the author have chosen that point of view? What does it allow her to do? What affect does it have you how you read the work?

9. Spill Simmer Falter Wither is heartrending. Does it leave any space for hope?

(We'll add specific questions if and when they're made available by the publisher. In the meantime use these, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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