Monday, June 27, 2016

The Glorious Heresies: A Book Review

There's prose and then there's the dense thicket of words that pricks like James Joyce. THE GLORIOUS HERESIES is more of the latter. But don't let the opening paragraphs put you off. Go on, read it again and again until the words make sense and you realize that Lisa McInerney can't help herself as she's an Irish storyteller and that's just how the sentences fall out of her head.

The novel is a tangle of narratives that are interconnected with cleverness that makes the reading an adventure. From Maureen who kills a shiftless intruder with a Holy Stone, to her son Jimmy the gangster who cleans up the mess, we next meet Tony Cusack the widowed drunk with six kids to feed, and soon thereafter it's Tony's son Ryan the drug dealer and the partner of the dead man, a prostitute who buys her drugs from Ryan. These disparate characters inhabit the poorest section of Cork where the death of the Celtic Tiger is keenly felt. Picture a novel set in the slums of an average American city like Cleveland, that is the sort of place that Ms. McInerney has chosen to present a group with nothing going for them and nothing to look forward to but more difficulty and hardship.

There is murder and a cover-up on one hand, and like ripples in a pond that cover-up touches on the entire cast of characters. Tony gets involved because he's the widowed father of six and desperate for any work that brings in a little money. Ryan is struggling to find his way, madly in love with his girlfriend but unable to build a solid relationship after surviving his dysfunctional father's regime. The cover-up leads to questions that threaten Jimmy, and if it sounds rather "In Bruges", this is a black comedy in that same vein.

The prose is light-hearted in its darkness, the situations devolving into near comedy with a hard edge. The horrors of the old Magdalene Laundries is touched upon by Maureen, who found herself pregnant as the system of incarceration was breaking down, but the resentment she harbours towards the Catholic Church is not unknown to those who have spoken to the women whose lives were destroyed. To understand Maureen's antipathy, you might want to read THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES to gain some insight into how the Church shaped modern Ireland, and women like Maureen.

To enter THE GLORIOUS HERESIES is to enter the world of those who typically end up dead or incarcerated, the denizens of the bottom of the social ladder. The author provides touches of humanity that make for fully realized people, rather than uni-dimensional images of the downtrodden, hopeless masses. As a reader, you may come to care about what happens to them, and so you keep on reading to a conclusion on a high note.

Lisa McInerney has long written a blog that focuses on the very sort of people she has used to populate her first novel. Her experiences writing from Cork show up in her first novel, a book populated by the very sort of characters she portrays in the blog. The note of hope on which the story closes might be a bit of wishful thinking, artistic license, or something that's been seen in the dismal estate housing that Americans would recognize as housing projects, with the same sets of social problems. After all the misery, however, it's a satisfying ending.

My great-grandmother's adage, about being grateful we weren't from Cork because that's where all the poor people are, could be some kind of warning about what you'll encounter as you read THE BLORIOUS HERESIES.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, more so after I got deeper into it than the opening pages. That dense thicket of words was off-putting at first, but the voice is unique and worth the struggle.

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