Sunday 25 February 2018

Eoin Macken - In the murky mind of a teenage boy

Eoin Macken
Eoin Macken
Eoin Mackin starring in Merlin
Eoin Macken starring in NBC's The Night Shift
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds on the debut novel from screenwriter, actor and director Eoin Macken

Back when I was in first year, a copy of Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes was secretly passed around from student to student until the tattered cover was held together with Sellotape, and its well-thumbed pages as orangey as its eponymous heroine's irises.

With themes ranging from murder to teen sex, urban legend had it that the book was banned from our convent school library, which naturally only made it more of a must-read for the classroomful of 13-year-old girls.

For their part, at home, my older teenaged brothers devoured Adrian Mole's angst-filled diaries, while my big sister had by then moved on to Virginia Andrews' much racier tomes.

Between Blume, Townsend and their ilk, there was no dearth of top-notch young adult fiction coming from both sides of the pond.

Coming-of-age tales with an Irish flavour, on the other hand, be it hardback or on the big screen, didn't seem to exist at the time.

Dublin author Eoin Macken clearly thought so too, because he's just fulfilled his lifelong ambition of penning a Stand By Me-style novel, which is sure to resonate especially with young male readers.

If the debut novelist looks familiar in his bio photo that's because the actor and model has also posed for Abercrombie & Fitch and starred in hit BBC series Merlin.

More recently, the 31-year-old has found success as army medic Dr TC Callahan on NBC's The Night Shift, which has just been picked up by RTÉ and renewed for a second season Stateside.

Multitalented Macken has told how the story of a 15-year-old Dublin lad called Sam, struggling to find his way in the world after falling in with the wrong crowd, is partly autobiographical, although presumably not the bits about skipping off school or shoplifting a porno mag.

And while you can't exactly imagine Ireland's own Dr McDreamy having had trouble with girls or the 'in' gang growing up, like Sam does, he certainly writes it well.

Now thought to be destined for the big screen, the sometime director also imbues his first book with a cinematic quality, in particular his evocation of the forested hangout where most of the action - or rather inaction where a group of lethargic young lads is concerned - takes place.

Indeed there are echoes of Stephen King's aforementioned 1986 cult classic when some of the juvenile delinquents discover a dead body in the woods, and again later when they set off by sailboat to an abandoned island to summon the spirit of a supposed murderer using an Ouija board.

Of course, it's not the first time that Macken has put pen to paper, having previously written and directed a number of feature films including Dreaming for You in 2008, and his experience shines through in the achingly honest account of the transition from boyhood to manhood.

Kingdom of Scars is likely to appeal most to Irish post-Harry Potter guys: inbetweeners who often feel like they're wearing a natural cloak of invisibility, while simultaneously discovering the magic - and curse - of the opposite sex.

'Birds', meanwhile, as Sam and his motley crew of frenemies would put it, may want to look elsewhere for self-validation, with female characters such as Antoinette giving it up like it's going out of fashion, and only literal girl next door Francesca offering a relatable alternative late in the book.

Then again, as an insight into the innermost workings of the monosyllabic male teenage mind, Kingdom of Scars may prove invaluable to young women here too - and these days they won't even have to smuggle it home in their maths book.

Either way, if this accomplished debut effort is anything to go by, Macken may not win the Tiger Eyes crowd, but he's definitely got the eye of the tiger.

Young adult

Kingdom of Scars

Eoin C Macken

Ward River Press, tpbk, 344 pages, €16.99

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

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