Friday 24 November 2017

Fast-paced potboiler with echoes of sex-and-shoulder-pad soaps of 1980s

Fiction: Grange Abbey, David Delaney, Liberties, tpbk, 451 pages, €17.99

Grange Abbey
Grange Abbey
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Grange Abbey feels like something from the 1980s. You'll note I didn't specify a book, but the more general "something": this debut Irish novel will remind you as much of sex-and-shoulder-pads soaps, or those mini-series which always seemed to star Michael York or Richard Chamberlain, as that decade's Wilbur Smith and Sidney Sheldon potboilers. This, by the way, is a good thing. Nothing wrong with unabashed, over-the-top entertainment - and if you like this kind of fast-paced, melodramatic story, Grange Abbey delivers.

It contains all the attributes of the genre: a family saga spanning decades; corporate shenanigans; sex and money; violence and love; betrayal, twists and surprises; and all set in a host of exotic locations (and some local). There's even an international assassin. It also has all of the flaws you probably remember from Dynasty/Thornbirds/Wilbur et al; we'll come back to that.

Grange Abbey is written by David Delaney, a pseudonym for a man who - according to the publishers - "worked in the construction industry as a developer for many years". Intriguingly, it's already a bestseller, making the Irish top 10 and prompting a fresh print run of 2,000 copies, which in domestic terms is huge.

The press bumf is pushing this as an exposé of the chicanery - and fantastic rewards - of construction and property development, which makes it sound like there's some contemporary relevance or moral lesson to be drawn, given Ireland's last decade.

But don't worry, Grange Abbey isn't as worthy as that (nor as boring). It's helter-skelter, sometimes schlocky and mostly implausible - and all the more fun for it.

The narrative centres on the Bannons, an Irish family who became the biggest property magnates in Britain. Paterfamilias James laid the foundations by rebuilding much of London after the Blitz; oldest son Frank expanded the business.

There's also weaselly middle boy Simon, and the preternaturally calm, intense youngest son Paul, who must save the family fortunes after they overreach during the 1970s. If that sounds familiar, it might remind you (as it did me) of Don Corleone and his pups in The Godfather: hothead Sonny, snivelling Fredo and scary-but-strangely-attractive Michael.

Delaney's plot jumps around in time - sometimes a bit tricky to work out exactly which era we're in - as the Bannons face personal and collective trials of a bewildering variety. Paul loses and gains, and loses the love of his life, Frank almost dies in a bust-up with a union boss, Simon does some truly despicable things and slips into a private hell. As with most potboilers, the plot is all over the place at times and the writing ranges from adequate to frequently bad. Yet, in the end, Grange Abbey works as entertainment; the story just sweeps you along and a large part of you can't wait to see what happens to them next. It's sort of irresistible.

The novel is outsized, colourful, absurd and really rather enjoyable - for much the same reason, I suppose, as those old mini-series were such good craic. There's a lot to be said for cheap thrills.

Darragh McManus's novels include Shiver the Whole Night Through and The Polka Dot Girl

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