Monday 22 January 2018

A pre-Bust prayer full of wisdom

Punk and poet: Dermot Bolger effortlessly develops his characters into penetrating, three-dimensional entities.
Punk and poet: Dermot Bolger effortlessly develops his characters into penetrating, three-dimensional entities.
Tanglewood book cover

Hilary A White

A punk and a poet without being a "punk poet" per se, Dermot Bolger revelled in situationism and sticking it to the culture-blind establishment during his late-seventies journeyman days. Since then, however, he has had a prolificacy to match any of the factories he worked in as a youth. Novels, novellas, poetry collections and plays are never far from completion with Bolger, but it is perhaps saying something that Tanglewood is the first piece of adult fiction that he has released for a decade (since 2005's The Family On Paradise Pier)

During that time, you imagine that the surging Celtic Tiger and impending collapse stirred something in the Dublin writer, as if this double paradigm move in Irish consciousness was just what he was looking for all his career.

That's certainly the feeling you get reading this brilliantly sculpted parable set on the eve of the Bust. Only a writer of Bolger's precision and suppleness could wade back through the nation's self-loathing into that mess and mine new truths, treasures to be heeded and learned from.

At first glance, Tanglewood bears the plumage of Irish social-realist misery porn, a genre currently in vogue. But this fable goes far beyond just taking potshots at the suburban gluttony of those days or adding a few crime-fiction elements. Bolger isn't meditating on regret, love, moral fibre, greed and carpe diem - he's setting the record straight on them.

It's early 2007. Chris and Alice are facing into a dying marriage, with Alice's resentment of her husband building with each failed trip to the auctioneers. The couple are obsessed with owning more property (like everyone else seems entitled to) and escaping the modest Blackrock home in which they've raised good-natured but closeted teenage daughter Sophie. Cocky Ronan, meanwhile, is an old classmate of Chris's living next door amid flash kitchen and flash second wife. He wants in with shifty developer Paul Hughes (take your pick of real-life inspirations) and when he sniffs his neighbour's increasing desperation, he proposes they build a third joint property across their back gardens to then sell on. What could go wrong?

While this is what happens in Tanglewood, it is not what it is about. This becomes apparent through Bolger's deft structuring. He takes one angle at a time, changing time and perspective (Sophie is the only character written in the first person). What really marks this out from other "recession fiction" is how he develops all these characters into penetrating, three-dimensional entities so effortlessly. This is storytelling that flows deep and soundly, and brims with a hard-earned wisdom. There is also a balance that he installs in the final chapters that is sublime.

Never underestimate an ageing punk, it seems.



Dermot Bolger

New Island

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