A refugee from Dublin’s slums returns home to face the phantoms of his hometown.
Byrne (Creative Writing/Glamorgan Univ.) displays an unmistakable gift for storytelling in a debut that for better or worse owes more to Ireland’s oral traditions than it does to novelistic structure. Our narrator is Denny Cullen, an expatriate from the projects of south Dublin whose ambitions—flee to Wales, make a few pounds, get a college education—come crashing down when his mother dies. “There yeh are, anyway,” Denny says. “Must o stepped on a snake somewhere. Slid back to Dublin. Square one. Or Wicklow at this exact moment, which might be square two, or even minus one. Ah sure, details.” Delivered in that fantastic (but explicit) Southern vernacular that frequently uses profanity as punctuation, Cullen and his drink-addled companions launch a series of misadventures that never end well. He rooms with his sister Paula, a lesbian who starts every afternoon with a tipple, in a house haunted not only by the memory of their mother but also by a genuine ghost. The best mates Denny finds are his old ones. Maggit is a violent hooligan in the vein familiar to readers of Irvine Welsh, while Pajo is a recovering junkie with a decidedly casual attitude toward the world whose cavalier text messages and insights smack of Zen Buddhism. The narrative is frustratingly directionless for a long time, as Denny and his partners in crime immerse themselves in the drug-fueled mayhem that only abject poverty can inspire. But eventually the book posits Denny as an unlikely modern version of the Irish hero Cúchulainn, who “went on to do all sorts o mad stuff, taking on gods and monsters and the enemies of Ulster.” This twist introduces a mythic quality in stark contrast to the characters’ ribald, lightning-fast dialogue.
Messy, funny, troubled and tragic.