Friday 15 December 2017

Rory's story of sex, drugs and Rockadoon

Fiction: Rockadoon Shore, Rory Gleeson, John Murray €19.99

Rory Gleeson, son of Irish film legend Brendan, makes his literary debut with the dark, sensitive novel 'Rockadoon Shore'
Rory Gleeson, son of Irish film legend Brendan, makes his literary debut with the dark, sensitive novel 'Rockadoon Shore'

Hilary A White

Soon in danger of becoming Ireland's most talented family, the Gleesons offer up yet another of their number for widespread admiration in the arts. Now, it's the turn of 27-year-old Rory, a younger brother to big-league star Domhnall and rising fellow actor Brian.

We could spend a day discussing what a proud man screen-giant father Brendan must be, but this is Rory's time. Rockadoon Shore, a saga about young people traversing the early years of adulthood and the decisions we make in life, is very much built to fit into the Irish literary-fiction domain where Donal Ryan and Lisa McInerney dwell. The average and everyday is honed in on, plumbed for truths and signposts about the workings of the mind and heart, and all by way of elusively functional language, coarse on the outside but lined with silk when you peer beneath.

Gleeson presents an ensemble cast and rotates their viewpoints, chapter by chapter. Six students have ventured off to a relative's country house for a wild weekend away. Cans are cracked open and spliffs rolled as the three girls and three boys begin to establish pecking orders, crushes and chips on the shoulder over three eventful days in the lakeside home.

All personality types are exposed as the hours go by. Merc is a vain exhibitionist with a cowardly core. Lucy drinks too much, while Steph is coming around to the idea that she is not a very nice person deep down. JJ seeks pure hedonism, unlike DanDan, who is still grappling emotionally with the recent death of his ex-girlfriend. Somewhat overseeing the throng and hosting the excursion is Cath, who has much to be worried about, it seems. They are "friends", but that term requires redefining, according to Gleeson.

Observing all this and finding himself sucked back into cutting memories of his younger years, when the house and life in general was a place of possibility and romance, is Malachy. The elderly neighbour sold off the family farm during the boom and has little to say for himself now.

His life has seen a couple of poor decisions make all the difference, decisions not too far removed from those being mulled over in the boozed-up, druggie, and ragingly- hormonal minds of the young visitors. Malachy provides the novel's punctuation marks, and when he calls in unannounced to inspect the commotion on the first night, he triggers a chain reaction in the fragile group dynamic.

Gleeson's debut rolls along with its own momentum, keeping the tableaux in constant flux as he affords the power struggles and sexual dilemmas of privileged young adults more attention and analysis than they are perhaps used to outside the Young Adult genre.

For this reason Rockadoon Shore may not appeal to everyone. What does do it a great service is the ballast provided by Malachy's character. In him, Gleeson locates a craggy counterpoint to these young lives and an echo of the sacrifices made by older generations.

Gleeson is only getting off the ground, but his sensitivity is reason enough to sit up and take notice.

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