Tuesday 21 November 2017

Books: Keeping up with the Rosser...

Fiction: Seedless In Seattle, Paul Howard, Penguin, tpbk, 400 pages, €14.99

'Illustration © Alan Clarke
'Illustration © Alan Clarke
Seedless in September
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It may be 15 years since Ross O'Carroll Kelly first started informing the nation of his own brilliance as a lover, rugby player and human being, but what a decade and half that has been.

When then Sunday Tribune journalist Paul Howard first unleashed his savagely grotesque caricature on an unsuspecting world, few people, least of all Howard himself, would have realised that the ultimate D4, SoCoDu snob would actually go on to become the single greatest chronicler of our times.

It's been a strange and terrible journey for both the author and his creation - and indeed the country - since Ross made his first smirking appearance in the media, and what started out as an amusingly sly dig at the deluded derring-do of a particularly obnoxious tribe of young people who were born to believe the good times would never end has become a strangely compelling annual snapshot of the state of the nation.

Seedless In Seattle is the 15th book in the franchise, and that's complemented by seemingly innumerable plays and stand alone radio pieces.

The irony is that the continued success of the character is probably down to the economic crash and while Howard would undoubtedly baulk at the notion that he is a beneficiary of the bust, there's no doubt that such a startling national fall from grace (or wake-up call, depending on your point of view) brought an added depth to a character who had previously been best known for his cracking one-liners.

Reality has indeed been a sobering experience for Castlerock's legendary fly half, and in recent years he has even found himself reduced to the crushing ignominy of actually having to work for a living, but it's hard to keep such indomitable stupidity down for long.

Last year's instalment in the ever expanding oeuvre was Keeping Up With The Kalashnikovs, which brought the intrepid anti-hero to darkest Africa when his long-suffering friend Fionn was kidnapped in Uganda.

Considering the fact that the haplessly Southside Ross can't cross the Liffey without causing a diplomatic incident, transplanting him to the rather murky world of jungle terrorism and Somalian pirates was certainly a stretch.

Keeping Up With The Kalashnikovs was undoubtedly his oddest book yet, although it was telling that even when compared to murderers, kidnappers and pirates, the most blood-curdling character was his own daughter, Honor, who despite her tender years has morphed into a plummy-voiced mutation - half Cruella De Vil, half Countess Bathory.

Having deliberately infested her school with rats in the last book, Seedless In Seattle sees Honor finally meet a much-needed therapist, who has just written the brilliantly titled self help childcare book, So Your Kid Is A Prick, but the child is worse than that, so much worse. In fact, she may well be the most disturbed and potentially dangerous fictional child since South Park's Cartman - and praise doesn't come much higher than that.

Of course, as a dad who is both doting and terrified of his daughter, he refuses to believe there is anything actually psychologically wrong with her.

As far as he is concerned, "she's just a bitch and it's up to us as parents to suck it up", a sentiment which will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to deal with those infuriating people who think their kid can do no wrong.

The sly genius of Howard is that while there are subtle snippets of social commentary peppered throughout his work, this is ultimately all about the farcical, deluded yet occasionally lovable hero, even if there are times when he commits so many atrocities against taste, decorum and other people's wives that you feel guilty for laughing at his exploits.

And, more so than Keeping Up With The Kalashnikovs, there is an abundance of laughs to be had in Seedless In Seattle.

Apart from spawning the hideous Honor, he's now the proud Dad to triplets Johnny, Leo and Brian, three future internationals whose arrival, understandably, has also led to his long-suffering wife, Sorcha, struggling to lose her baby weight.

Or, as he puts it rather more succinctly: "If I was being a wanker, I'd say I'm tempted to ask her to check there isn't still a baby or two in there."

When Sorcha, prompted by her ever vengeful father, demands that Ross has a vasectomy, his life suddenly seems more precarious. So, not unreasonably, he skips the appointment and hops on a plane to Argentina to help find his half-sister Erika, who eloped with an Argentinian show jumper before ending that relationship and falling off the radar.

There follows the usual RO'CK shenanigans. He mistakenly sleeps with a mentally disturbed Argentinian pensioner (only he could sleep with someone by mistake, of course) and finds himself attacked by her sword-wielding husband and, of course, finds Erika.

In other words, this is classically degenerate O'Carroll Kelly behaviour, part rutting stag and part forlorn man who secretly admits that he is "dropped-on-the-head-as-a-baby stupid". He remains both a hugely entertaining character and a deeply disturbed and obnoxious moron.

That's a neat trick to pull off, and one which Howard does, again, with aplomb.

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