Tuesday 15 October 2019

Poetic style has fine debut novel dancing in the rain


The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow

Danny Denton

Granta, paperback, 355 pages, €13.50

Denton: immense promise
Denton: immense promise
The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow by Danny Denton


The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow comes drowning in the type of testimonial overkill now sadly common in publishing - "stunning", "mighty", "tour de force", "absolutely marvellous" - from a coterie of lauded authors and even actor Cillian Murphy.

Corkman Danny Denton's debut isn't as incredible as suggested (I'm not sure anything could be). But it is a really fine novel in its own right, and shows immense promise for what Denton will produce in future.

This dystopia is set in a saturated Ireland, several decades in the future. The sun hasn't been seen - literally - for years. The rain is ever-present, from drizzle to Biblical thunderstorms.

Environmental and social degeneration have made the seas radioactive and animals mutant, and flooded half the country. (Denton's cinematically vivid descriptions of this drowned world are among many highlights.)

The Irish State, while just about functioning, has disintegrated into a gangster's paradise. Our major exports are drugs and illegal body parts; criminal gangs run more or less free.

Among them, the Earlie Boys are top dogs, and the Earlie King is their pack alpha. He's a semi-legendary figure to the people of Dublin, an anti-hero with a violent and possibly apocryphal past.

He's also the father of a young daughter, and we begin with her dying in childbirth. Her boyfriend, and baby's dad, is the Kid in Yellow (known for the colour of his "skins": waterproof gear everyone wears).

The Kid is banished from the King's gang. But, desperate situations calling for desperate measures, this boy has his own plans: for the "babba", the King and making something better from the hellish life and land he dwells in.

The world of the novel is fantastical but convincingly drawn by Denton. This Ireland is an intriguing mix of brutality and romanticism, postmodern globalism and Celtic Twilight mythologising, hi-tech gadgetry and almost pre-industrial social forms.

It's relayed by several narrators (including ex-Garda Ward, more years into the future); chapters move between him, the Kid, a reporter called O'Casey and - in a strikingly ambitious gambit - various denizens of a seedy Dublin pub, presented as a play script.

Where The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow really soars is in its style. Denton tells his story in a lovely, lyrical way. It's not quite at the supernaturally brilliant level of invented language we find in, say, A Clockwork Orange or Riddley Walker. But his mélange of Hiberno-English, technological neologisms, newly fashioned slang and obsolete/archaic terms is original, poetic and beguiling - words which apply equally well to the book as a whole.

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