OMG! It's into Africa with Ross O'Carroll-Kelly
Ian O'Doherty on the latest from Ross O'Carroll-Kelly which sees South Dublin's pride and joy on a mission in Uganda and mixing it with Somali pirates
Over the course of 16 novels, Ross O'Carroll Kelly has worn many jerseys. Paul Howard's legendarily asinine creation has evolved from the schools rugby prodigy with the big boot and even bigger ego to some weird and twisted metaphor for the brief rise, and terminal decline, of this country's fortunes.
It was a remarkable testament to the author's deftness that a character as truly repugnant as Ross could become such a staple of popular culture. After all, what started out as a funny-but-furious assault on the social foibles of a small subset of Irish society in the sadly defunct Sunday Tribune has now become one of the most successful creations in the history of Irish fiction.
Not only will Keeping Up With the Kalashnikovs bring total book sales in the series to the astonishing 1,000,000 mark, there have also been plays, a musical, radio shows and spoken word projects. While the former Castlerock out-half may have few redeeming features, he is the first true Irish multimedia star of the century
Bestriding his mini-empire, not so much as a colossus but as the social equivalent of Typhoid Mary, he infects all he encounters with chaos and emotional carnage. Picking up where last year's Downturn Abbey left off, life is as chaotic as we have come to expect from the O'Carroll-Kelly household. The money problems he suffered just like the rest of the country have, unlike those of the rest of the country, largely disappeared and he's living in a mansion with its own coach house in the back of their splendid Killiney garden.
But Sorcha is expecting triplets while his eldest son Ronan, his girlfriend and their new child are, somewhat reluctantly, also living there. But whatever choppy domestic waters he has to navigate soon pale into insignificance when his long-suffering friend, Fionn, is kidnapped while doing aid work in Uganda. Or, as Ross puts it, 'Unganga Nanga'.
Cultural sensitivity, or sensitivity of any sort, doesn't feature as one of his strong points, and apart from his fundamental inability to actually pronounce the country's name correctly, he is further enraged by the Department of Foreign Affair's refusal to send in the SAS to rescue his friend. As usual, his efforts at diplomacy are hopelessly counter-productive but while he describes his life as a 'nerve shredding, plate-spinning act' it soon becomes exhausting even for the reader. He racially insults his kidnapped friend's fiancé, hatches a plot to break up his mother's relationship, while also causing irreparable damage to another friend's business.
In fact, Keeping Up With the Kalashnikovs shows Ross at his unforgivable worst, to the point where his strangely endearing idiocy has been replaced by the instincts of a monster. Regular readers won't be surprised to see that his ferociously nasty daughter, Honor, has become even more insolent. In fact, her psychotic tendencies are kept in check only by playing the piccolo to her rapidly growing collection of pet rats.
As the consequences of his increasingly, and uncharacteristically criminal escapades begin to catch up with him, travelling to Uganda on a rescue mission seems like a reasonable idea and before long Ross and his friends are traipsing through a remote shanty town, bellowing in pidgin English to the locals and staring in wonderment at some bare-breasted natives.
There's an old rule in TV comedy that once you start sending your characters on exotic holidays, you're close to jumping the shark. After all, Ross is effectively a sitcom and the situation is specifically south county Dublin, not the African cell they find themselves in when their rescue attempt goes predictably awry. And that's when Keeping Up With the Kalashnikovs takes a jarring turn.
Between seducing one of the locals and promising to bring her back to Ireland, a tense night-time trek through the jungle or the gunfight that leads to an unexpected death, Howard goes into darker waters than usual, including a pop-quiz explanation of Somali piracy along the way.
It's certainly an unusual departure for a character so associated with First World problems, and it stretches the character to its limits.
That shift in tone may startle those readers expecting a litany of pop culture references and name-dropping of pretentious Dublin restaurants, but it shouldn't dissuade them from the latest postcard from Planet Ross.
Keeping Up with the Kalashnikovs
Penguin, tpbk, €14.99, 389 pages
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