Wednesday 21 March 2018

Dull and tired old literary chestnuts dragged out again

Danny, Mario and Me
Denise Sewell (New Island, €12.99)

Many of our best writers were associated, at some stage, with New Island: Roddy Doyle, Joseph O'Connor, Tom MacIntyre, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Brian Lynch. And they're still doing good work, giving a break to new talents, supporting established writers, taking risks.

So it is with heavy heart that I say: Danny, Mario and Me, written by Cavan native Denise Sewell and published by New Island, isn't a great novel. No, that's still not totally honest. Let me rephrase: it's a mediocre novel. Not the worst thing I've ever read by a long shot, but unarguably mediocre.

Danny, Mario and Me gets off to a bad start with that unimaginative title, then gets worse with this: "Danny was happy. Fact. I'd have bet my life on it without a second's thought." That's three clichés within the first 15 words of the book.

I realise it uses a first-person narrator, which generally means a more casual tone. But this can be achieved without using trite, overworked phrases. And this book has many of them.

The storyline feels like something we've come across a million times before: a sort of coming-of-age tale set in a small border town during the 1980s. We have the trio of best friends (known, predictably, as The Three Musketeers) who fit the stereotypes of the form: Tadhg the thoughtful one; Danny the brooding, troubled one; Mario the likeable schmuck.

They get into various scrapes. They make a pact of brotherhood. They all call their mother ma, another favourite convention of this type of fiction; not mam or mum or anything else but ma.

They swear a lot, as characters in these books always do, and in the exact way that characters in these books always do: it's all 'Jaysus' and 'shite' and 'fuckin' eejit'. I suppose it's meant to be colourful and charming, but it just sounds clunky as dialogue. Nobody actually speaks like that, do they?

But the most grievous fault, for me, is that the book opens with a suicide. I've always been a bit icky about the use of something so delicate and grim as a plot device for a book. In fairness, it's handled quite sensitively; but on the other hand, I didn't feel it really added anything to the work.

There are a good few things about Danny, Mario and Me: a decent pace, some well-drawn and empathetic supporting characters (Danny's mother, Tadhg's sister, one of their teachers); and Danny's history as the mysterious Northern lad forced to move south holds the interest.

That was it for me, though. I'm sure some people will enjoy this book; I found it dull and tired, those old literary chestnuts being dragged out and done to death yet again.

Irish Independent

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