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 A grim, angry, profane, and entirely convincing debut novel about the furies at work in the Irish soul, by a young Irish journalist. Sweeney's short fiction has already garnered him a number of awards, and it's not hard to see why. This tale, of the desperate return of Paul Kelly to his native village, after years spent abroad, offers an assured portrait of a society fueled by liquor and anger, and consumed by the need to somehow apportion blame for life's frustrations. Paul, who had left the village of Rathbawn eight years before, comes back only when his younger brother is mysteriously murdered. Driven by guilt over the death of his wife in England, doubting his ability to raise their young daughter, Kaya, on his own, and uncertain of his own place in the world, Paul sets out to track down his brother's murderers, believing that if he can just find them, and take an appropriate revenge, his troubles can be laid to rest. Accompanied by a zestfully violent old friend, with his own scores to settle, Paul begins to ask questions, and his search peels away the many layers of hard life in the village, throwing him into the path of thugs, and the elusive IRA, drawing him deeper into his own family's tangled history before the murderer, and the tawdry motive for the crime, emerge. Along the way, the narrative is saturated in booze; everyone drinks, and Paul seems determined to drink himself into a perpetual stupor. (The title refers to the first, saving, drink of the day.) Sweeney narrates much of the tale in the coarse, vibrant slang the streets, reminiscent of the style of such authors as Roddy Doyle. But his focus on questions of responsibility and redemption seems entirely his own. Paul's salvation, when it comes, is hard-won and persuasive. Like everything else in this book, it has an authenticity found only in the work of first-rate writers.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18206-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997