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‘The Mariner hath his will’

Coleridge beat himself up for his addiction to opium. Does Michael Grieve have a compulsion to confess?

The line from Coleridge to Grieve? ‘The Ancient Mariner’ grasps the reader with a chilling narrative. So does the bar-fly in Luck, who makes us voyeurs to his ‘diazepam and pokey flat’, his world shrunk to the choice between life and death. And why? — the mariner committed the minor crime of killing an albatross; the narrator of Luck has flipped one too many decks of cards. 

Ordinary human social life goes on in the background of ‘the lads’ in the pub or the wedding feast, but our narrator (like the mariner), is cut off from this through possession of a gift. Just as the mariner’s lucky albatross led the ship out of dangerous ice field, our narrator has a supernatural ability to win at cards.

Like Coleridge’s ballad, the subtext here is suffering and sin, the need to atone and be punished. Just as the mariner wants to die, rather than suffer, so the gambler in Luck wants to lose at cards (to free himself). The two narrators share an urgent need, namely, to tell the story.  The narrator of Luck has his ‘fist of blueys’ (diazepam) to induce the same kind of trippy dissociated state as the one into which the lonely mariner falls.

I have a feeling Luck’s narrator has a few more years left in him of playing dice with death before he reaches dry land and redemption. I certainly hope the author has. I’d like to see what he writes next.

Sarah Miell