This novel illustrates why social mobility is no substitute for addressing inequality. Ryan at 15 is bright, attractive, sensitive. He plays the piano. He even speaks Italian! But these attributes aren’t enough for him to escape the impoverished world he was born into. He’s already started dealing and after his feeble father gets mixed up in a murder, Ryan is also drawn into the web.
The novel is set in Cork, but this isn’t the Cork of the tourist brochures or the international business parks. The characters in this book live mostly in a confined world, where people like them frequent the same few streets, where the only other point of reference is a London diaspora of more people like them. Ryan has a glimpse of a brighter world, of nightclubs and festivals and a ‘normal’ life with his girlfriend but the two worlds are increasingly in conflict.
This book gallops along, full of rich earthy language and ideas turning somersaults. The story plays on the archetypal Irish themes and subverts them. Religion is here but not the religion of the Catholic church. It is gone, though a mother once forced to give up her son is fighting its ghost. Addiction is rife, repentance court ordered.
There are some issues with the structure. I felt there were some themes which are picked up and not fully developed and a couple of things left unresolved. Conversely, the author breaks up the end of the book to go back and spell out what you’d already surmised. Thinking we’d finished, I then had to re-engage as she picked up the story for one final, pivotal scene.
But overall I loved it. It’s so rare in fiction to see working-class characters (or non-working class) from their own point of view, rather than through the prism of a detective. I found myself thinking long after I’d finished it about freedom and injustice and how self-destructive behaviour is sometimes the only power you have. And it’s funny. If you like your humour bleak and savage.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.