Jeremy Cooper’s Bolt from the Blue documents the evolving relationship between artist and filmmaker Lynn Gallagher and her mother. Their story is told through a thirty-year postcard exchange, and while sometimes their conversations are affectionate, they can also be sharp, wounding and brutal. Cooper manages to flit across this spectrum with agility in a wonderful reinvigoration of the epistolary form.
The correspondences are dated between October 1985 and August 2018, from when Lynn leaves home to attend university until the death of her mother. They have an intimate, if unconventional, relationship. They pull apart and spring back together, all while communicating in a language known only to them.
Bolt from the Blue is a book to be read in a flurry and at times it is difficult to keep up. The two women can navigate swiftly between political opinions, on Margaret Thatcher for example, to insightful analysis of their relationship, and to news that is utterly banal.
This is never relentless, in fact it is quite pleasurable; reading it felt like a fascinating invasion of their inner lives. A topic of particular tension is their respective fathers. On a few occasions, Lynn expresses frustration for never knowing much about hers, but these are met with a brick wall. However, Lynn is responsive when her mother mentions her own late father, when it’s clear she still feels his absence keenly:
The novel is certainly funny, and it is cringingly relatable how both women repeat the same arguments over and over again. Despite her mother saying that she is not interested in updates on the “art scene”, Lynn ignores her wishes completely.
Throughout the novel their communication slips in and out of comprehension, sometimes they are thinking as one and other times they miss each other completely, like ships passing in the night. As time passes, their relationship changes. Cooper demonstrates this subtly, all while acknowledging the profundity of this shift.
Their words are often used as weapons, but what is refreshing is how Lynn and her mother let their pain fall to the wayside. Bolt from the Blue makes as much use of silence as it does with correspondence. A significant gap between replies gives them space to recuperate, as if it is a place to go and lick their wounds, whereas conversation can be far more inflicting.
One particularly impressive tool was the use of novels. Lynn gives her mother book recommendations, something that is deeply personal to her. Books are precious, lively things, and this exchange works as a sort of reverse inheritance, something of extraordinary sentimental value that Lynn can give her mother.
Their roles are never reversed, the grow independently yet somehow in tandem. They begin to ask each other for advice; Lynn’s mother experiences reoccurring nightmares and she says: “but it doesn’t explain how those awful pictures appear in my head. Where do they come from? What can I do?” Lynn carefully replies:
The pair share phraseology, their language overlaps, and their tone is clearly related. While on the outside their relationship would appear bizarre, it is powered by commitment and a mutual respect for one another’s privacy.
Bolt from the Blue, although simple in structure, is ambitious in form. Its themes of isolation and loneliness are delicately handled, and the undulating nature of mother-daughter relationships is told with a refreshing sensitivity. For an author to demonstrate this within such a convoluted relationship, and one that is told only though letters, is a lesson in how clever and effective subtle writing can be.
Bolt from the Blue by Jeremy Cooper (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2021)
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Top image credit: Rebecca Gilroy
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