Review: Fiction: The Rule Of War by Aoife Feeney
It may not be politically correct to begin a review of Aoife Feeney's savagely satirical first novel with a reference to her husband. But John Feeney took a delight in being non-PC.
He also liked biting the hand that didn't feed him -- he had, for example, an admirably sharp tooth for the IRA and their fellow travellers.
John wrote a book of short stories called Mao Dies about which the distinguished critic Maurice Harmon said: "John Feeney's characters are isolated -- from home, from loved ones -- in a hostile world of institutions, urban ugliness and debased values."
Harmon could have been writing about Aoife.
But there are great differences. Inevitably, she is vastly more mature than her husband was given the chance to be; she has fewer illusions; and, most of all, she writes about what it is like to be a woman in a way no man could manage.
Come to think of it, no Irish woman novelist has ever written about the ruder end of female sexuality more graphically than she does here. Or with more disgust -- Feeney has a Swiftian horror of bodily functions and of what women put up with in the name of male pleasure.
Which is not to say that she has a soft hand under the Sisterhood -- pretend feminists and pretentious lesbians have their bottoms unmercifully pinched.
Take, for example, Tina Foley, a character who fills both bills. She is desperately trying to construct a false memory of being raped by her father at the age of three, but is put right about men by her worldly-wise hag of a mother: "In those days, pet," mum says, "you never saw them with their clothes off 'til it was too late."
The story starts in 2006 and ends in 2016. The country is in the grip of a mystery disease, a cross between HIV and malaria.
Some of the native Irish blame the plague on foreigners and degenerates. Other natives, far more civilised, set up Daonnacht, a cuddly New Age organisation devoted to a pure Gaelic culture.
But the cuddling evolves to shooting the legs off a dwarf who "had stolen cars, about 50 of them, and took them up on a bridge and burned them in a big bonfire, that you could see the flames for thousands of miles".
The exaggeration and the bad grammar can be excused: the speaker is Maeve, a child violently abused by her mother, Rosanne Roycroft, one of the book's main monsters.
Rosanne is a member of Aosdána (that body gets a bashing here) and a famous Irish language poet -- but only because she found an uncatalogued sheaf of poems in the National Library, stuck them up her jumper and plagiarised them.
Her husband, William, is an academic renowned as a balanced anti-revisionist: on the one hand the IRA were "crazed and out of control", but on the other hand the "ideals were honourable", and Daonnacht will honour its intentions, legless dwarves and all.
Then there is Finn Daly, an alcoholic anarchistic genius. Really, Rosanne should get him into Aosdána, but his latest book somehow turns out to be "a hymn to child abuse".
His wife, Miriam, is horrified, though she is also busy having experimental sex with Derek Garvin, her gay publisher, Blaise Booth, a pimply maniac, William Roycroft and Tina Foley.
Paul Ryan, "the most important man in Dublin" -- which is to say the bits of Ranelagh and Rathmines where they find serving red wine with fish "very rewarding" -- is trusted by the Taoiseach (unnamed) to promote the 2016 Summer Festival: "Ireland as cultural dynamo . . . that sort of thing".
At the finale Rosanne warns the Taoiseach: "Paul Ryan's going to accuse your government of fomenting hatred, of aiding and abetting the racist attacks" on diseased foreigners and dwarves. Consternation once again. Murder is done. Daonnacht dominates. Finn's "hymn to child abuse" wins the big prize.
Aoife Feeney's novel is by no means faultless. In particular, she jumps from scene to scene so fast the reader often can't keep up. But she cuts deep and she has a gift for comedy. John would have laughed.
Brian Lynch is a member of Aosdána.