McCabe (Emerald Germs of Ireland, 2001, etc.) slips a bit deeper into the Slough of Despond with his latest account of madness, squalor, violence, perversity, and hope in the north of Ireland.
A tale by the celebrated Irish author is a harrowing experience usually redeemed by the brilliance of the story, but it will generally leave you feeling pretty drained. Here, again, we are introduced to a collection of Faulknerian monsters trapped within the borderland that separates Ireland from Northern Ireland during the troubled days of the 1970s and ’80s. The narrator is Joey Tallon, a kind of Celtic hippie who works in a pub, reads Herman Hesse and St. John of the Cross, smokes copious amounts of marijuana, and tries to keep out of mischief. The latter is easier said than done when half of your neighbors belong to the IRA and the other half pretend to, but Joey is a genial and unambitious lad without strong political views. Secretly in love with a mysterious American girl named Jaci, he contrasts the daily comings and goings of his friends and townsmen with the weird inner world of his own imagination and longing. His hometown of Scotsfield is ominously ordinary and suffering badly from the Troubles, a place where the parish priest’s overtures toward reconciliation are met with contempt from both Catholics and Protestants, and where the town councilors are more likely concerned with money laundering than property taxes. After a local detective is murdered, Joey is arrested and sent to prison in Dublin, where he begins keeping a journal and emerges, years later, as a celebrated writer. Although his fate is meant to be hopeful, his impossibly tangled narration and the overall tone of moral squalor overwhelm everything with an impenetrable gloom.
By turns fascinating, repulsive, heartbreaking, and unreadable: probably the greatest mess McCabe has published to date.