Young people in Ireland think about philosophy, dating, good, evil, and other riddles while edging toward violence in this debut novel of ideas.
Sparling’s saga follows a loose assemblage of Dublin teenagers as they edge toward adulthood and mull whether to act on their half-formed intellectual conceits. They include the music-obsessed Jack; Rembrandt, who has bookish intellectual leanings; Bozwell, a competitive sort with Nietzschean and Darwinian theories about what women want from men; and his co-worker Johnny, who ineptly tries to put Bozwell’s strategies into action with girls at a nightclub. After jumping ahead a few years, the narrative zooms in on Jack, now a music journalist, who lapses into a coma after being shot in the head. He processes the incident in an interminable dream sequence that soon feels rather tiresome, as one knows that the elaborate subplots aren’t actually happening to the character. The story then shifts to Katie, a prostitute with a connection to Jack, and Noah, a teenage drug dealer with wavering scruples, as they take a joy ride across France, supporting themselves with scams and robberies. The novel then veers back to Jack as he falls in with a commune of anarchist squatters in Hamburg, Germany; his recording of and responses to their sociopolitical pensées leads him to a confrontation with police. Sparling’s loose-limbed plot is mainly a pretext for his characters to free-associate about the state of the world and their souls. They hold forth in aphoristic but rambling soliloquies on every topic from rock bands (“Radiohead is music for self-flagellation”) to morality (“God is not only in the divine, he is also in the brutal”) to human nature (“We are apes looking for bananas of adulation”) to the battle of the sexes (“man spends his time playing Russian roulette with women”). When it concentrates on concrete relationships, as in an analysis of Jack’s breakup with a girlfriend, Sparling’s prose is vivid and incisive. Too often, though, the novel has the all-too-realistic feel of a stoned dormitory bull session.
A poetic but unfocused hit-and-miss mixture of pithy insights and bloviation.