Monday 20 May 2019

Review: Fiction: Gabriel's Gate by Tom Galvin

Book Republic €19.99

Gabriel's Gate is a novel with a long gestation. Author and journalist Tom Galvin crafted the first draft while living in Poland during the 1990s.

He revisited the book years later, and realised its themes and narratives dovetailed well with those of Ireland after the Celtic Tiger.

Launching the book, Vincent Browne said it was about the "chancers" who got us into this mess. But I feel that Gabriel's Gate deals in much more fundamental matters: idealism, cynicism, greed, violence, hopes and dreams.

Maybe that's why the story has endured for so long, from that early Polish draft to this fine novel: these things are universal and timeless.

The plot is a good one, the sort you'd imagine would transfer well to the screen: a bunch of young idealists, feeling post-boom Ireland had nothing to offer them, set up a commune on a struggling farm, two parts ecological and one part philosophical. (The title refers to a sculpture of Gabriel which is erected at the entrance.)

Their "leader" is the brooding, complex and intelligent G; the land comes from his friend John, a young local farmer.

Others of like mind join them, including a disenchanted doctor and industrious pothead. Things go okay for a while; it's tough, back-breaking work, but the camaraderie and sense of achievement override the hardship.

Slowly, cracks appear in their solidarity. Small things go awry, then bigger things; there are rows and recriminations, poverty and cold weather.

Still, they persist -- until two ghosts from John's past, or rather his family's, return to threaten everything. A stalled property development resulted in these dangerous men losing a lot of money. . . and they're not happy about these hippies getting back to nature, either.

Galvin skilfully blends the different elements together: Gabriel's Gate is by turns social commentary, thriller, moral fable, black comedy and horror story.

There's a pleasingly downbeat feel to the book, a sense of dread and impending disaster. The climax, while shocking and disturbing, never feels forced or tacked on, just the inevitable consequence of the evil that men do.

The novel ends with a coda, one that suggests good things can, and do, endure. Not a bad philosophy as we rebuild this broken country.

Darragh McManus

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