Tuesday 12 December 2017

Review: Fiction: Ross O'Carroll-Kelly Nama Mia! by Paul Howard

Penguin, €16.99

So, the Celtic Tiger is long gone, a distant memory whose only reminder is outstanding debts and frequent calls from creditors, fraud investigators and the hated Nama.

Yup -- the high-flying Celtic Cubs that were Ross O'Carroll-Kelly and his merry band of chancers lived life high on the hog during the good old days, but with the country's economy now the equivalent of a post-nuclear smouldering ruin, the ones who flew the highest had the farthest to fall.

Paul Howard's epic creation of a spoilt, unutterably stupid and completely pig-ignorant Southsider from a rugby school struck quite the chord with Irish readers. But has this ultimate symbol of those halcyon days become completely redundant?

After all, when things were going well, we could all laugh at the ridiculous, pompous, faux-American mannerisms and spending habits of a bunch of spoiled Trustafarians.

Now, however, the joke just seems well . . . vulgar and crass.

However, Howard -- proving that he is truly one of the great writers working in Ireland today -- has managed to use the economic collapse to breathe new life into a character who was becoming cliched and stale.

When we last saw Ross, in the previous novel The Oh My God Delusion, Ross looked on helplessly as the world he knew collapsed around him -- his favourite nightclubs were closing and as the shutters fell on each successive haunt, his depression became deeper.

To make matters worse, his treasured Leinster Schools Senior Cup winners medal was taken off him and then, to cap everything off, social welfare moved two members of a working-class criminal gang into his apartment block.

For the first time in his life Ross had to begin to confront the reality of things. And, interestingly, that made for one of the best books in the series -- all of a sudden we were getting an image of someone who was more than just a Heineken-swilling buffoon with a permanent erection and a complete lack of conscience.

Not much more, in fairness, but The Oh My God Delusion was where Ross started to grow up.

Fast forward to Nama Mia! and Ross is at something of a crossroads. He is turning 30 and doesn't know what direction his life is taking.

But, unlike his friends -- one of whom owes €70m -- his business is at least thriving. He runs one of the few booming companies in the country -- a paper-shredding outfit called, with typical Ross subtlety, Shred Focking Everything.

Indeed, Ross is revealing worrying signs of maturity -- he has started to actually show signs of concern for his hated father following his heart attack; he is close to his son Ronan, and even the wife he is separated from, Sorcha, admits that he's a good father to their incredibly precocious -- and thoroughly obnoxious -- five-year-old daughter Honor.

As regular readers will know, Ross's son from a previous one-night stand, teenager Ronan who, despite being incredibly gifted, lives with his mother in Finglas, wears a Shamrock Rovers jersey and has always expressed an interest in becoming a gangland figure, like his best friend, 'Buckets Of Blood'.

But while he is showing signs of growing up in Nama Mia!, the old Ross is never far away and when he has a one-night stand with a Scouser on her hen party in Temple Bar it leads to perhaps the funniest passage in any of the O'Carroll-Kelly books -- and that is saying something.

Let's just say that having Wintergreen on your tongue when you're trying to persuade your best friend's creditors not to declare him bankrupt is not an advisable strategy -- it does, however, make for a genuinely hilarious scenario and I can honestly say that I haven't laughed that much reading a chapter since Carl Hiaasen was funny.

But perhaps the crux of the book comes in the well-preserved form of 60-year-old Regina Rathfriland.

Ross's frankly evil sister Erika had an affair with Regina's husband and the shame of that discovery made him commit suicide.

To keep Erika's name out of the papers, Regina blackmailed nearly €2m from Ross's father and she now lives a life of luxury in a mansion in Foxrock.

When Ross gets a call asking him to come out to her house to shred some rather sensitive documents, he has no idea what she really wants.

And it is here, to be frank, that the book becomes a bit more explicit in detail than usual, and the two of them begin a torrid affair.

But rather than being just friends with benefits, she starts sending him gifts -- such as a €30,000 watch. It's at this moment that Ross, never the quickest on the up-take, let's not forget, suddenly realises that he has become a gigolo -- and he likes it.

But things, as we know from previous encounters, seldom run smooth in his life, so how will his latest adventure end?

Howard has given Ross a new lease of life in this book and it's a testament to his skill not as a writer but as a keen observer of society that Nama Mia! actually ranks up there with his best work.

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