Collected Works: Literature



by Maureen Duffy

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Digging her spade into black soil, recalling ladies she has lain with, a woman carelessly slices a worm in two. Its ‘sundered halves’ writhe on in ‘fierce motor activity’, and she wonders whether she has ‘parted them in love’. But no, they are quite dead. One part of the worm, she notes, contains the vital organs. The other simply spasms in sympathy. If this were an act of mating, it would be rather an uneven one, however indistinguishable the pink, squirming segments seem on the surface.

Wounds is an examination of London: the city of fog, the Old Smoke. In the mid-forties, inhabitants’ hopes were high, but the injuries inflicted by war were slow to heal. They remain two decades later, forming a scarred backdrop against which isolation and frustration are projected. The novel follows ten individuals, their thoughts and actions documented in a series of stream-of-consciousness passages. The brevity of each serves to emphasise the fragmentation of modern urban life.

These episodes are juxtaposed with the bedside whisperings of an enamoured couple. Their anonymity positions them as an idealised abstraction, ‘all the lovers in the world, in all times and places’. But both are white and heterosexual. We are left to question how universal this relationship really is, given that the city setting is rife with homophobia and racism. Alex, a young, black actor, is pushed out of London by abuse. Kingy, the gardener, is harassed by male pub-goers who wish to ‘understand’ her sexuality.

Throughout, the prose refuses specificity, allowing the titular word to permeate the pages. It is used to describe song lyrics, female genitalia, and love, which Maureen Duffy refers to as ‘the pain of being alive’. Yet, for the author, sex also epitomises healing. Apparent contradictions recur, never yielding to straightforward conclusions. The blemishes of London life commingle, wounds closing only to open once more. Even when the flesh no longer bears a mark, we continue to wriggle in vicarious discomfort.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

You can read an excerpt of the novel here, and visit Maureen Duffy's official website here. Martin Doyle has interviewed the author for The Irish Times, as has Gaby Robinson-Wright for Henpicked.

Question of the day

Which books, poems or stories about London would you recommend, and why?
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‘After the Lunch’, a poem by Wendy Cope. I first read it on the London Tube. It contains beautiful imagery and honesty about the counterintuitive nature of love.

– Yumi Zouma, synth pop group (via The Brief →)

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