About half way through this novel, I was worried that it was another example of what has become something of a genre – miserable and depressing books set in Ireland. I have lost count of the ones I have read. Angela’s Ashes, a memoir of a terrible and poverty-stricken childhood, is a good example and probably the daddy of the genre. But earlier in this blog there is a post about a novel that fits pretty well, too.
But this book is much better than that. It is all narrated through the character of John Egan, an 11 year old boy and an only child, and it takes us through the troubles of his small family. He is an eccentric child; or, at least, I think he is. His voice is internally consistent, which is essential to the book’s success as a novel. You have to ‘buy in’ to his perspective. But because there is no third person narrator to swoop in and clarify things and put them in context, you only have his view of the world and it is a partial one, of course. A bit like the brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon.
You do wonder throughout the book whether he is disturbed in some way or (even scarier?) is this what things really look like when you are that age? Is it an accurate reflection of the tendency to obsession and the inability to foresee consequences that, at least sometimes, we might see in all young people?
It is disquieting to see things only through this partial view. There is a foreboding that is reinforced as bad things happen – not really, really bad things but bad things nonetheless. Which makes the denouement feel like a release and, actually, makes you feel good.