Tuesday 16 July 2019

Books: Hedonistic but joyless coming of age in Dublin

Fiction: Here Are The Young Men, Rob Doyle, Lilliput Press; tpbk, €13.99, 304 pages

Rising talent: Rob Doyle’s debut novel is grim but highly impressive
Rising talent: Rob Doyle’s debut novel is grim but highly impressive

Edel Coffey

It's hard not to think that the small Irish publishers, The Lilliput Press, are riding the crest of a new wave of young Irish talent with their run of compelling novels from young authors like Donal Ryan and Elske Rahill and now a sinister debut from Rob Doyle.

Here Are The Young Men tells the story of a group of four young men and a few of their female friends on the periphery, set mainly in Dublin in that limbo between finishing your Leaving Cert and getting your results.

With the pressure off after exams and a period of slight reprieve before they discover their fates, whether they will go to university or have to enter the real world and get a job, the group embrace a summer of pure hedonism but of little joy.

Doyle delves into each character's psyche, from the existential angst and burgeoning depression of Rez to the violent fantasies of the sociopathic Kearney. And what we see when we pass through the sullen, monosyllabic and defensive exteriors that comprise most teenage boys will terrify parents everywhere – a vast, swarming cesspit of troubled thoughts, anxiety, turbulent sexual desires and disturbing violent ideation.

Doyle is well placed to describe these as he comes to this book packing a philosophy and psychoanalysis degree from Trinity. He has a remarkable way of articulating the innermost thoughts of young men without making them seem far-fetched. In this very particular twilight period between school life ending and 'real' life beginning, these young men appear to be balanced on a knife-edge between the path that will lead to a 'normal' life and falling into the abyss of their dark fantasies, their experimentation with drugs and attraction to violence.

Doyle perfectly describes the disaffected experience of most suburban teenagers, the feeling of waiting for life to begin. It's a period of our lives where we crave freedom and experience but have no money or independence so the time is wheedled out, usually shivering in the cold and damp in a series of large public spaces – Greystones and Killiney beaches, The Garden Of Remembrance, and The Iveagh Gardens all get a name check here and will call up memories for anyone who grew up in Dublin in the 90s.

Doyle's book is not a cheerful tale – he flags this up early on with a quote from the nihilist philosopher EM Cioran. It's a cautionary tale, a look at the kind of young men, and women, who are growing up in a world of violent films and computer games, plentiful drug supply and omnipresent pornography.

Doyle describes a dystopian scenario where our young men and women are being robbed of experiences that feel real by being exposed to endless simulations of these very experiences, and so life itself starts to feel like a simulation. This is what spurs them on in an ever more terrifying spiral of attempting to find new ways of feeling real.

Only the lucky make it across the Rubicon and into adulthood. There are a couple of points where it feels like the story may teeter over into implausibility but Doyle keeps it together and the result is a dark and intoxicating debut describing modern Ireland. In all, it's another feather in Lilliput's cap.

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709 350

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