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It starts with a murder, but that murder is kind of weird. A guy dies – he’s been hit over the head with religion (literally; it’s an icon). The killer? Not your run-of-the-mill criminal, but Maureen – mother of Jimmy, a crime lord in the town of Cork, where this gritty story is set. Maureen is reluctantly put up in a building of Jimmy’s when she needs a place to stay; the victim is a previous ‘tenant’ returned. Thus fate is cast.
Running alongside this is the story of Tony (one of Jimmy’s henchmen) and his son Ryan, who seems to be resisting following in his father’s footsteps. Initially, anyway. Ryan is in love with Karine, and the relationship is a sweet one. Part of McInerney’s skill as a writer has to be how she creates a sense of horror in the reader as we watch Jimmy – prodigal, talented son – succumb to drug dealing and crime. ‘His lot’, some might argue. In this, the case for ‘nurture’ rather than ‘nature’ seems depressingly accurate.
Georgie the prostitute is the final protagonist – poor Georgie who doesn’t have much luck in life, and yet makes the most of what she’s got – she is the murder victim’s girlfriend. These narratives work side-by-side until, as with many great stories, they come together.
McInerney uses local dialect in her text, which means the reader really feels part of the place. Whether you’ve been to Ireland or not, the words and accents rendered here are as familiar as St Patrick’s Day. If that makes it sound lightweight, it’s not. The characters are well-written, and I found myself particularly taken with Ryan’s story – he who starts out as a boy and ends up a hardened man. It felt sad but inevitable, what with him being the son of Tony (poor Tony) who tries to leave crime, but can’t. His relationship with girlfriend Karine seemed so full of hope at the start and it’s testament to McInerney’s writing that one wishes it would stay that way.
It is bleak, yes, but also funny. It’s been described as a meditation on sex and family in ‘the arse end of Ireland’, which also happens to be the name of McInerney’s popular Irish blog. There’s a bit of a ‘Tarantino’ feel to parts of the book – especially the murder at the start and the unusual circumstances that surround it. If you, like me, enjoy vicarious living, this might be the book for you. I know one thing – I certainly wouldn’t want to live any of these lives for real!
Reviewed by Lara Liesbeth
The Glorious Heresies
by Lisa McInerney
Published by John Murray Publishers