One man's descent into the hell of madness, pursued by men who may have killed his best friend, as told by the acclaimed novelist and poet (The Bend for Home, 1998, etc.).
Ollie Ewing, an Irish carpenter, is living in meager surroundings in Sligo, trying to recover from a shattering experience as an immigrant worker in London. At the outset of the story, told in the first person by Ewing, he's working in a supermarket, "a great shop to think in," and living in a rundown house inhabited by a group of struggling artists. He's been living inside his own head for so long, victimized by his London crises, the nature of which are only gradually revealed, that he is "sick of [his] own consciousness." Slowly, painstakingly, he begins to reconnect with the world, starting with his housemates, then his mother and, finally, his reproachful father, whom he visits in Coventry. Only after that reconciliation does Ollie—and Healy—reel back the months to recount the devastating events that sent him on a downward spiral. One of hundreds of itinerant Irish laborers in London, Ollie stumbles into a protection and hiring racket (vaguely reminiscent of the corrupt doings in On the Waterfront). He angers the wrong people and finds himself torn between paranoiac fantasy and genuine danger. Eventually, both his friend Marty and his brother Redmond fall victim to real violence from his real enemies, leaving Ollie to grapple alone with his demons and a brutally insensitive English justice system. Healy tells his story with a dark, jittery humor, filled with jagged rhythms, punctuated by the bizarre reveries of Ollie's wandering mind. It all ends not with Ollie's rebirth but with the traumas that precede it: the result is an odd, troubling read.
American readers will want a glossary of Anglo-Irish slang, but anyone who reads this will catch the brooding strangeness of this eerie, difficult book.