‘Cork City isn’t going to notice the first brave steps of a resolute little man. The city runs on the macro: traffic jams, All-Ireland finals, drug busts, general elections. Shit to complain about: the economy, the Dáil, whatever shaving of Ireland’s integrity they were auctioning off to mainland Europe this week.
But Monday lunchtime was the whole world to one new man, and probably a thousand more besides, people who spent those couple of hours getting promotions or pregnancy tests or keys to their brand-new second-hand cars. There were people dying, too. That’s the way of the city: one new man to take the place of another, bleeding out on a polished kitchen floor.’
Multi-character narratives are hard enough to pull off at the best of times, as are novels written in the vernacular. Yet somehow, Lisa McInerney’s debut novel pulls off both of these tricks with aplomb in this darkly comic story about interconnected characters surviving life outside the lines in Cork City, Ireland.
Released in 2015, this debut soared to prestigious heights upon winning the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliot Prize in 2016. Now with a sequel on the horizon, today I am taking a look back at one of my favourite reads in recent times.
It would have been easy to write a novel full of clichés with the material that McInerney selected here. The main ingredients of the tale includes an alcoholic father, a lovestruck teenage couple, the token battleaxe mother and a hopeless sex worker. While these type of characters may seem stale or worn out in other works, McInerney’s has the incredible ability to make each character very real and important to the mechanisms of her story. Backstories and motivations are seamlessly made clear in a manner that creates characters that are fully formed and believable and this is done with out ever losing the vital momentum that keeps the reader going.
Teenage tearaway, Ryan Cusack, takes centre stage in this world of vice and sin. It is his character arc that the reader uses to place the times and events of the novel. In between tales of teenage romance and parental angst, we fast forward to the city’s most feared crimial, Jimmy Phelan, who is struggling to reconnect with his own mad mother. Maureen the mad mother enters the novel with a bang as she murders poor Robbie O’Donovan with a holy statue when she finds him in her new flat. Georgie the runaway whore then wonders where deadbeat Robbie has gone while Ryan’s dad Tony is called in to clean up the mess…and of course he knows who Robbie is. This is just a taste of the incredible web of characters and scenarios that McInerney packs into 371 pages.
With so many voices present, it also would have been easy to lose each character’s message in the collective noise but, critically, when McInerney changes the narrative voice of her story, she never loses pace or leaves the reader pining for one character over another. Everything is suitably connected as it would be in the real world. Newton’s Third law (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) is referenced and this is very apt given the context of this novel as a whole.
Within the novel, there are some memorable set pieces such as angry confrontations between teacher and student, late night chats with ghostly apparitions and two junkie parents using their four year old as a sneak thief. McInerey’s use of Corkonian colloquialisms such as ‘bint,’ ‘holy josephine’ and ‘bags of taytos’ also light up the prose and the dark themes throughout the book.
‘When you saw killers on the telly, they always looked a bit off. Too much attention from handsy uncles, too few green vegetables. Faces like bags of triangles and eyes like buttons on sticks.’
The events of The Glorious Heresies take place over the course of about four years and with this significant chunk of time we see some real character changes. It goes without saying that life is hard and it changes who we are little by little each year and McInerney masterfully captures this essence within the pages of her breakthrough novel. By the end, I had gone on a journey with each character and it was a shame to see that journey come to an end. I look forward to the upcoming sequel, The Blood Miracles, in April of this year.
Would I recommend this book to a friend?
Yes. For me this book is an example of the immense amount of talent that is present amongst Irish writers at the current moment. The writing here is sharp and brutally honest while also retaining the wicked sense of dark humour that Ireland is infamous for. With a sequel on it’s way, make sure to get around to this one soon. You will not be disappointed.
- Television fans of Love/Hate and Shameless will love this one.
- Both editions of this book have amazing covers as does the upcoming sequel