THE HOLY CITY by Patrick McCabe


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Disappointing ninth novel from McCabe (Winterwood, 2007, etc.), the self-portrait of an Irishman undone by childhood trauma.

Chris McCool was conceived in a barn on the Thornton estate, where his mother, the Protestant Lady Thornton, was seduced by a Catholic accountant. Aristocratic Henry Thornton reacted with fury to his wife’s contamination and informed her that the baby boy must never be brought into the manor. Chris was set up in a rustic cottage and raised by a Catholic zealot, Dimpie McCool; his genteel mother and equally genteel friend Ethel visited him at night. By the time Chris was a teenager, Dimpie and both Thorntons were dead, leaving him with a bunch of chickens and lasting psychic scars. Even though Chris is over 60 when he introduces himself to readers in the opening pages, his focus is on his 24-year-old self, a successful dairy farmer living in the small town of Cullymore. It’s 1969, and Chris just loves the ’60s: the clothes, the hipness, above all the music. Yet something is terribly wrong. Why would Chris visit his mother’s old friend Ethel, climb onto her lap, precipitate her heart attack and leave her unattended? Why would he fantasize that his mother had a perfect little son ensconced in the manor? And why, most startlingly, would his obsession with a pious Nigerian high-school student lead him to scrawl racist slurs in the cathedral? His shenanigans lead him to a Hindu shrink and eventually to solitary confinement in a mental hospital. None of this makes much sense, and Chris’s glib, jokey tone doesn’t help: It’s a little off, unconvincing. The furious energy that drove much of McCabe’s previous work is missing; instead we have a dismaying flatness as Chris makes the rounds of his obsessions: the religious divide, blackness, a cherished poetry anthology. It’s a hermetically sealed world, and McCabe has not created credible characters to penetrate it.

The author’s weakest work to date, a waste of his considerable talent.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59691-611-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2008


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