Friday 26 May 2017

Debut a barbaric yawp across the world's rooftops

Fiction: Montpelier Parade, Karl Geary, Harvill Secker, hardback, 234 pages, €14.99

Master: Dublin-born Kevin Geary
Master: Dublin-born Kevin Geary
Montpelier Parade

Fiona Ness

Underprivileged - that's what we'd call Sonny Knolls nowadays. But in 1980s Dublin, he is a boy much like any other. A boy with a beautiful face who works in the butcher shop after school, smokes in the field with Sharon and watches his mother crumbling at the kitchen sink; waiting interminably for the light to break. In writer Karl Geary's Dublin, there's no Jimmy Rabbitte yakking in the bath. This writer has previous. The youngest of eight, he left a desolate Dublin in the 1980s for New York, aged 16. Here he went on to typify the emigrant dream, co-running the legendary music bar Sin-e, kissing Madonna in her Sex book, and being headhunted for movies.

Now married and living in Glasgow, his debut novel returns the reader to the place and time in which he grew up, a place he may have left but which has never left him.

"There's a terrific history of Irish people writing in exile," Geary told Review earlier this month. "Patrick Kavanagh talks about how intimately we know the place we grew up in. There's a thing that happens in childhood where time feels very slow. I wanted the book to feel like a rural novel; something to do with the pace and timing and tempo."

So despite being an accomplished ("luminous" is the most common descriptor) work of fiction, it's also a barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.

"Inside of you a howl of a feeling started, just under the surface. An alone feeling you couldn't keep from yourself," Geary writes.

Sonny's father is a builder and a country fella. His big hands can handle a shovel but money runs through his fingers at the bookies. His older sons scuttle around him like cockroaches avoiding the light, but Sonny waits for his chance to share moments of solitude with the man. His mother is worn down beyond repair. "Not so many years ago you would race home to her after school, just to know she was alive and hadn't left you in that house of men, without a soft thing in the world," Geary writes in his second-person narrative.

Sonny exists in the liminal spaces between family, work and school until a chance meeting with a damaged woman named Vera brings him into sharp conflict with what US poet Robert Lowell termed the "savage servility" of the world. There is happiness, albeit fleeting, and it opens up a chasm in the protagonist's life. The weight of Sonny's world presses against the reader's chest, visceral and real.

"You never understood how that was with people, that they could tell you all kinds of things without saying anything," writes Geary.

With Montpelier Parade, he's proved himself a master of that art.

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