The debut novel from screenwriter and actor Geary, set a generation ago in Dublin, depicts a dark, sad, doomed, and deeply unconventional love affair.
Sonny Knolls is a working-class teenager who earns extra money as a dogsbody at a butcher's shop after school and on the weekend helps his father, a small-time handyman. On one such occasion, as father and son shore up a homeowner's wall in the tony area that gives the novel its title, Sonny encounters their employer, a middle-aged woman named Vera whose haunted, ethereal beauty—partly bound up in her seeming an alien from the far-off land of Posh and Prosperous—makes an immediate and indelible impression. Sonny begins to contrive ways to see her again, reasons to return to her trim and lovely house. His own neighborhood is grimy, his family life bleakly unpromising; Sonny's father is a crank and a gambler, his mother meek, resentful, but long-suffering; it's the sort of family in which communication, if one has to indulge in such, is guilt-ridden, stunted, laconic, furtive. Geary skillfully captures the milieu and establishes Sonny's hapless sense of where he's headed: blackout drinking, petty theft, expulsion from school, a meat-cutting apprenticeship he'll be lucky to keep, a life of grim hanging on. Vera, who has formidable troubles of her own with depression, is likewise drawn (there are hints of a precipitating mystery and shame here, but there’s no way to put it together until the end) to the sensitive, vulnerable, good-looking teenager, and before long the tension between them explodes into an erotic clinch that, she tells him, he'll eventually hate her for. That Geary makes this romantic relationship feel genuine and even touching, as well as unsettling and a little creepy, is one of the book's several merits.
A relentlessly downbeat but often poignant novel about flawed and despairing lovers testing—and transgressing—border walls of various kinds.