Sweary Lady and a gallery of rogues in vivid colour
Tanya Sweeney on the long-awaited debut novel by blogger-turned-author Lisa McInerney
If you recall the Arse End Of Ireland blog from the height-slash-nadir of the Celtic Tiger, it's likely that you do so with enormous fondness. Fizzing with a delightful irreverence, Sweary Lady's (Lisa McInerney to her mum) take on life - from the vantage point of a Galway council estate - was side-eyed and uproarious in equal measure. Her straight in, no kissing delivery (also writ large in a short story, 'Saturday, Boring') promised greatness, and now that has finally materialised in the form of her debut novel.
And so we head to modern-day Cork, where McInerney has found the beating pulse of a time where 'the country (has) gone to sh*t and the desperate were growing mad'. Amid the rubble of post-crash Ireland, we meet alcoholic Tony Cusack and his drug-dealing teenage son Ryan; Jimmy Phelan, the shady figure who presides over the criminal underworld, and Maureen, his 59-year-old 'slip of a whip' mother that gave him up for adoption some 40 years previously.
And then there's twentysomething sex worker Georgie, a 'small-town wild child and intermittent claustrophobic, self-styled', who was born to parents of the land and stalled by the land. Her partner/pimp (and fellow runaway) Robbie O'Donovan gets murdered in a Cork flat belonging to Phelan, thus kickstarting a breakneck chain of events that involve everyone. It's a small city, so the narratives of this gallery of rogues overlap in a satisfying way. Cusack, something of a weak link in the operation, is tasked with disposing of Robbie's body, while Georgie is attempting to go clean, her attempts thwarted by Ryan. And so it goes. A supporting cast of religious zealots and henchmen round out the dog-eat-dog action.
Social malaise, despair, sadness and unease seep through McInerney's prose, yet it's undercut occasionally with a brutal humour, and the The Glorious Heresies is all the better for it. Its scope is ambitious, its prose unfussy and economical but wholly affecting. And amid the vividness of some truly colourful characters, there is genuine emotion and pathos.
The anxieties of parenthood, the quiet burn of bereavement, the bittersweet taste of finding love in a hopeless place, the grim realisation that any attempts at self-betterment are fruitless. It's all there in glorious Technicolor, but it's the tonal notes hit by McInerney's tight writing style that is the book's strong suit.
In her hands, the People's Republic is buzzing and brought to life. On the book's jacket, Kevin Barry enthuses that McInerney is 'totally and unmistakeably the real deal'. In truth, McInerney and the City of Bohane author make for fitting stylistic bedfellows, and not just because of their geographical settings.
Between the likes of Sara Baume and Máire T Robinson, we are enjoying a real embarrassment of riches when it comes to compelling new literary voices. It's a megawatt-bright scene, and McInerney is definitely one of its leading lights. The Glorious Heresies has been a long time coming for her followers. Happily, the wait has been more than worth it.
The Glorious Heresies
John Murray Press, hdbk, 384p, €17.99
Available with free P&P on kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350