The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney – book review

0223620_the-blood-miracles_300I picked up Lisa McInerney’s debut The Glorious Heresies a few days after it was published based on the utterly brilliant cover. Shallow I know, but there you have it. Colourful graffitied Virgin Mary, glowing praise from Kevin Barry, and a blurb setting up a dark comedy realistically set in post-crash, post-Catholic Ireland – all these things were catnip to me. After practically inhaling it and pressing it on everyone who asked me for book recommendations (and many who didn’t!) I was totally convinced of McInerney’s talent. I wasn’t a bit surprised when word-of-mouth snowballed and the justified awards started rolling in. The downside of this was I awaited her next novel with Big Expectations.

“This, like so many of Ryan Cusack’s f**k-ups, begins with ecstasy”

I didn’t realise until I got my mitts on it that The Blood Miracles is a sequel of sorts – it features some of the characters from The Glorious Heresies, but works as a standalone novel also. Rather than the multiple narratives of the first book, The Blood Miracles focuses on Ryan Cusack – a half-Corkonian half- Neapolitan drug dealer, whose sociopathic boss has decided to use him to open a new black market route between Ireland and Italy. This aspect of the story could be described as ‘Love/Hate in Cork’- although infinitely better, there is the same addictive danger that made that RTE series so popular. There are enough alliances and complex transactions to keep any reader guessing, and the action comes thick and fast.

Ryan is perfectly portrayed – he is highly intelligent, complex and somehow poetic, and there is a simple tragedy in how his circumstance have led him down the path of crime. The one light in his life, his beloved girlfriend Karine, is beginning to think he is a lost cause and he is a man on a precipice…Torn between two places, two worlds, two versions of himself, it is a pleasure to watch Ryan navigate through riotous scenes of violence, clubbing, drugs, crime and sex.  All of McInerney’s characters are skilled at spinning gold into straw – Ryan is particularly good at making a hames of things, and it makes for very good reading. This is a different beast to Heresies – the focus is tighter, and it is less funny – but it is no less worthwhile (and this is from one who went in with Big Expectations). Read this one now so you can say you have when it starts showing up on award shortlists later in the year!

The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney is published by John Murray Press on 20th April 2017. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Four short-ish book reviews (one is more a dire warning!)

Yet again, life has flared up in unexpected, time-consuming, sometimes work but often health related ways, so poor old Eats Plants, Reads Books has been neglected of late. I even let its one year anniversary pass unmarked *shameface* I’ll make up for it with a giveaway later in the year. I’m going to try out combined posts for a while – not just to clear the backlog, but to give shorter reviews a go, because as my lovely subscribers know I am normally a ranter! If you strongly approve/disapprove, lemme know in the comments*.

gallery-1466012493-emma-cline-the-girlsThe Girls – Emma Cline

This was one of the big hype books of summer 2016, and, ever the contrarian, this made me predisposed to dislike it. It didn’t help that press kept breathlessly hailing Emma Cline as the voice of her generation – making me think of Hannah Horvath in HBO’s cult hit Girls “”I think that I may be The Voice of My Generation… or at least a voice of a generation”.

Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogues with words like ‘sunset’ and ‘Paris.’ Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus.

Set in 1960s California, inspired by Charles Manson and his ‘Family’, The Girls is suffused in a sun baked headiness of social and sexual awakening. The book is told from the point of view of teenage Evie Boyd, who becomes embroiled in the cult not because of the cult leader Russell but because of her need to be accepted by his female followers. She sees them as impossibly cool and beautiful, and as her family falls apart Evie’s longing to be loved and accepted by these women is almost a physical need.  There is something languid, blurry, and vaguely stoned about the writing that captures the situation and time-period perfectly. In short – it turns out this was an increasingly rare case of justifiable hype. It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, and I can’t wait to read more from Emma Cline.

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff fates-and-furies-cover-image

This is another hyped book, that it took me a while to get around to because I couldn’t face another book described as the next Gone Girl. First things first – this book is not at all like Gone Girl. A book with different points of view on a marriage is not automatically like Gone Girl – just as, sadly, my dark hair and green eyes do not make me like Olivia Wilde.

As the blurb would have it – every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. Fates and Furies skips forward and back through the 24-year marriage of Lotto and Mathilde, telling the story firstly from his point of view, then from hers. Gone Girl fans who go in for the thriller pace and big twists are set up to be disappointed, as this book is more about subtle complexity and some truly beautiful writing.

Neither Lotto nor Mathilde are particularly likeable – they are beautiful, rich, privileged white people – but they are interesting, which is better. Reading this book is reading the same story twice, but the different viewpoint recasts everything you think you knew. Lotto is the ‘Fates’ seeing his relationship as a great love story; Mathilde the ‘Furies’ who has a surface that belies her true interior.

Fates and Furies isn’t the easiest read – if you want a turn off your brain thriller, you’ll find it hard work. However, once you get past the slow pace of the start, it becomes extremely rewarding – there is a reason Barack Obama named this his book of the year shortly after its release. It is a dream book for book clubs – holding a mirror up to real life in a way that is bound to get the conversations flowing at your BC meeting. If you have already read it – I’d be interested to hear if you are Team Lotto or Team Mathilde!

The_Blade_ArtistThe Blade Artist – Irvine Welsh

BEGBIE IS BACK!!! Ok, got that out of the way… but really that was my first, and repeated, thought when I first heard about this book. Franco Begbie is an electrifyingly realised amoral psychopath, undoubtedly Irvine Welsh’s greatest character (and brilliantly portrayed by Robert Carlyle in Trainspotting). But this is Begbie as we have never seen him before… now known as Jim Francis, he is a successful sculptor with a beautiful wife and two adored daughters, living the good life in California. He has had a lot of therapy (he is married to his art therapist from prison) and he has become skilled at anger management. He is also (as ever) played by Robert Carlyle in my head.

Begbie’s past actions are put in the context of being the anger response of the trapped working class with a horrifically violent childhood. As he works on his breathing to push down his anger, as he makes his art over Guns n Roses blaring, Welsh makes us wonder – has Begbie broken free of his conditioning into violence? Or has he learned a veneer of behaviour to hide his true nature?  The death of his son brings him home to Scotland, and it is here, in the face of the expectation of those who know him as a psychotic violence machine, not to mention the endless irritation of dealing with Tesco mobile, the Begbie we know and fear comes closer to the surface…  if you liked Trainspotting, you have to read this. If you don’t like Trainspotting – you won’t. If you haven’t read/watched Trainspotting – what have you been doing with yourself?!?!?! Rectify that, and then see advice above for The Blade Artist.

Behind Closed Doors – B A Paris Behind-closed-doors-cover

Oh jaysus. This book.

In general, I try not to be savage in my reviews. Books are subjective just like everything else, and even when something isn’t really my cup of tea I try to figure out who would enjoy it so I can pitch it to the correct audience in my review. I’m always very conscious of the time and effort an author put into their work, and small though my sphere of influence is I am always hesitant to be utterly damning. However, since this book is mystifyingly popular, I have no fear my unfettered opinion is snatching bread from the author’s mouth, and so can tell you I loathed it with a fiery passion and resent every second of time I spent between its pages. (I only finished it because it was one of my book club selections, otherwise I would have read 30 pages and then gifted it to someone I hated).

The entire plot is basically summarized in the blurb on the back, posing the question ‘the perfect marriage or the perfect lie?’ What a shocker – it’s the latter. Jack, the psychopath husband, is So Very Villainous I wouldn’t have batted an eye if he started ‘mwah ha ha’-ing into his elbow as he wrapped a cape around himself after a good old mustache twirl. This is not domestic noir, it’s pantomime – and his threats of ‘asylums’ belong in a Gothic novel, not a contemporary setting. This isn’t Gotham City, and besides Millie is a smart, capable girl with Downs Syndrome who attends a prestigious boarding school. Despite the borderline offensive portrayal of Downs in the book, Millie is still clearly more capable of adult functionality than Grace is. Grace, the trapped wife, is in her situation because of such abysmal life choices it’s impossible to pity her. Hot tip – don’t give up your career prospects, your family, your friends to focus exclusively on one person – anyone who allows you to do that, let alone encourages you to, is a controlling ball of negativity, and you will end up regretting it wholeheartedly. Always. Now take this universal advice to Grace’s extreme of choosing someone that you know for less than six months over your beloved sister for whom you are guardian. Then have that person vanish on your wedding night, and rock up the next day demanding you not make a fuss and you hand over your passport to him as you go on honeymoon. Sorry what? What?! “I can’t help thinking it’s a shame he’s such a sadistic bastard, because he has wonderful manners” – classic Grace. Honestly, I have nothing good to say about this, despite the piles of 5-star reviews from other bloggers (including ones whose opinions I usually value). I warn you you read at your own risk – and know before you do that Jack also horrifically kills a puppy.

*hmmm, these aren’t actually that short! Brevity never my strong suit – oh well. I received copies of The Girls, Fates and Furies and The Blade Artist from their respective publishers in return for an honest review.

Lying in Wait – book review

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707We’re all used to hearing about ‘the difficult second album’, but there seems to be an expectation that writers don’t experience anything of the sort. I imagine, however, that Liz Nugent felt second-book-syndrome keenly when she sat down to write a book to follow in the footsteps of her best-selling award-winning debut Unravelling Oliver. It probably didn’t help that she has a vocal and enthusiastic following (including myself!) who were not very patiently waiting for something to match up to the twists and twistedness of her first offering.

“My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it… I couldn’t help going over the events of the night in my mind, each time wishing that some aspect, some detail, could be different, but facts are facts and we must get used to them.”

Lying in Wait grabs you with a stonker of a first sentence, and it doesn’t let go from there. Narrated by three characters in alternating chapters – Lydia Fitzsimons, reclusive wife of a respected judge; her son Laurence; and Karen Doyle, sister of a murdered prostitute. All three have a unique voice and viewpoint, and the sickening developments in the story are all the more real for it. The supporting characters in this book are excellent – shout out to poor Bridget’s father, who features only on about five pages yet managed to break my heart. Tiny touches (Anco courses and Ponds face cream) combine with institutional horrors such as the mother and baby ‘homes’ to set the time period perfectly. The reality of class divides in Dublin are skilfully fleshed out without ever being explicitly in the foreground. I am not going to say a single word about the plot for fear of spoiling it – you just need to read this one.

I was afraid I would ruin this for myself in the frenzy of anticipation surrounding the lead up to publication – it’s easy for something to fall flat if you have psyched yourself up about how brilliant you expect it to be. I’m delighted to say I need not have worried – in fact, this is a superior book, and anticipation has already started for book three! Strengths I saw in Nugent’s writing when I read Unravelling Oliver are happily confirmed to be something we can rely on from her rather than a once off… books that don’t hang everything on one big twist but are ‘twisty’; a focus on whydunnit not whodunit; authentically voiced characters from the sympathetic to the supremely warped; a willingness to engage with issues of race, class, and control; a steely determination not to shy away from dark and disturbing endings. If you liked Unravelling Oliver, you are going to love Lying in Wait.

Lying in Wait is launching Thursday July 14th in Eason, St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, Dublin 2 at 6:30pm. You too can come! But you must RSVP to ajohnston@penguinrandomhouse.ie

The Wicked Boy – book review

wickedboyIn West Ham in 1895, two young brothers suddenly seem to have a bit more money and freedom than usual. Robert and Nattie Coombes, twelve and thirteen respectively spent a few weeks going to the theatre; to cricket at Lords; frequenting the coffee shops around the docklands, and telling anyone who enquired that their mother was visiting Liverpool. Truth will out however, and the boys are ultimately discovered smoking and playing cards at home in a room that reeks of their decomposing mother.

Robert and Nattie are placed on trial for matricide, and Robert admits to killing her in her bed with a knife he had purchased for that purpose. In his version, Nattie is in on the murder, while Nattie claims he was completely innocent. The damage done to Robert’s psyche by his love of penny dreadfuls was a large part of his trial, much as video nasties/computer games/listening to Marilyn Manson have loomed large in modern cases. The shape of Robert’s skull is analysed, to assess if he fits Lombroso’s criminal type, as outlined by vogueish ‘science’. The focuses of the trial, the press coverage, the societal fallout tell us as much about Victorian society and its attitudes to childhood and criminality as they do about the ‘wicked boy’ whose motive for matricide is never uncovered.

This is as good a place as any to admit I am a big Kate Summerscale fan. Her books set the historical scene perfectly, and her latest is no exception. Small social interest details are used to give a clear picture of the setting but are never extraneous to the plot – for example, a long drought had impacted on sanitation, which meant that West Ham was unusually noxious at the time of the crime, which in turn helps to explain how the stench from the house went unnoticed. A story this salacious would be front page news now, so to get some idea of the level of fascination in the area at the time she informs us: Continue reading “The Wicked Boy – book review”