Young Irish newcomer McCrea works Joyce’s territory with Beckettian irony—and a healthy splash of Patrick White.
Niall Lenihan has come up to Dublin to do his studies at Trinity. He’s not exactly a bumpkin, just a boy fresh off a crush on a boy who is now off to the continent, ignoring his cellphone calls and text messages. These little techno-accouterments are important to McCrea’s story, the stuff of subtext and context; via text messages, Niall begs off beery meetings with his college chums to visit what was “for a long time Dublin’s only gay pub and still the unrivaled center of Dublin’s homosexual world” and suchlike places, where his horizons and circle of acquaintances most definitely expand. So do they when, inspired by a shadowy figure with a wondrously improbable name, Niall and school friends are drawn into a literary game inspired by the old Roman sortes virgilianae, by which the answers to life’s questions are to be located among the lines of the Aeneid. Niall’s texts are broader, including novels, poems and even travel guides; naturally, Joyce turns up early on, convincing Niall of the merits of the game: when he challenges pal Fionnuala to tell him where his parents live, she dusts off Ulysses to reply, “Oh damn you and your Paris fads . . . I want Sandycove milk.” You don’t have to be Irish—or gay—to follow the twists of McCrea’s plot, though it might help at points to have read Maeve Binchy, to know what an “RTÉ accent” sounds like, and to have some sense of the layout of Dublin and, later, Paris, where Niall’s bibliomanic fortunes take him far from Sandycove, to spend his hours “being led to an apartment block where the initial letters of the names on the bells formed an acrostic of ‘Sarah’ . . . or ending up in conversation with a drunk Irish gay man in the Marais called John.”
Rich in ideas and true to the real world: a promising debut.