Review: Paul Howard 'Downturn Abbey'
Ross does Downton. . . in Bray!
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"I'm pushing my granddaughter through one of North Dublin's roughest council estates – when the local residents' association has the word 'continuity' in its title then you know you're in a trouble area."
Ah yes, such a sentence could only signal the return of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, the git that keeps on giving – Downturn Abbey is the 13th novel in the same number of years from the prolific pen of Paul Howard.
Enjoying the kind of good fortune that only ever falls to the truly undeserving, our hero finds himself escaping his recessionary travails and comfortably ensconced in a Foxrock mansion, which just happens to be the family home of Sorcha, his insufferable wife, who returns to the house her father was forced to sell and which was bought by Ross's granny.
The couple have once more tried to give their marriage a go, despite the fact that neither seems capable of change – he is facing down the barrel of middle age and Sorcha's as witless as ever.
And, as the title suggests, she has just as predictably adopted an obsession with the TV show that gives us the title – even throwing a themed night in their palatial pad with all the blithe, silly pretension of a modern day Marie Antoinette
Tied to the northside through his son, the apprentice criminal Ronan, Ross and an increasingly clucky Sorcha come up with the idea of 'rescuing' Ronan and his pregnant, teenage girlfriend from a life of working class squalor by transplanting them to the leafy splendours of the southside. But there is the small matter of a social worker and the criminal family of Ronan's girlfriend, Shadden Tuite, to overcome first.
Of course, Ross retains his contempt for anyone who isn't him, but after reluctantly attending another Downton-themed party in Bray, he finds himself the victim of a prank from the put-upon Clairea and her drippy boyfriend Garret, which sees him walking the mean streets of 'Brayrut' while dressed as Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess from Downton.
This humiliation sees Ross accosted by a gang of blokes, "some of them (shouting) that I'm a fooken pervert who should be locked up and some of them that they'd like to rip the dress off me and ride me".
Not unreasonably, this prompts him to reflect: "I've never said a thing about Bray that wasn't true."
Following a quick revenge prank involving a baby monitor and a new age therapy session from hell, he then finds himself coping with an increasingly psychopathic daughter – who comes across as the most genuinely hateful child committed to fiction in a long time – while also trying to rescue his son from the grips of a moneylender.
Downturn Abbey is the latest in the ongoing saga of the misadventures of Ross and despite all the well-rendered social observations, there is an inevitable, and not unwelcome, familiarity to some of the scenes of chaos.
Perhaps Ross has stopped being that scathing postcard from the edge of madness of old and become a more comfy, annual family newsletter from the kind of people who use pictures of themselves on Christmas cards.
And who are we to argue?