It is about a boy named Jim Finnegan who lives in Southern Ireland in the mid eighties and comes from a large family of sisters. Being “typically” Irish, the book contains God, the IRA and sexual abuse by a priest. I have yet to read an upbeat book set in Ireland without misery and looming bleakness.
It is written in first person using a narrative style that is very internal and what I’d describe as a stream of consciousness. There are no speech quotations and Jim just rattles off in his Irish accent. It is very fast paced and feels very much in the present – but then at the same time Jim seems to jump backwards and forwards with his memories. It’d start off in the now and then he’ll go backwards to what happened before.
I will say that this style is not really one I enjoy and despite the narrative being so internal, I never really felt like I was in Jim’s head. Maybe it is just I found it hard to really get into the mind of a teenage boy and I could not really bring myself to like Jim very much. He seemed a rather silly boy with a poor taste in friends.
One of the main storylines is that Jim is being raped by a priest throughout his childhood. The word rape is used a lot and repeatedly. It isn’t a nice word and I think Maher was brave to sling it around a lot. Sometimes I wonder if he slung it around so much he lessened the impact of this storyline and made it sound more flippant than it should be. However, it is a word that I think people don’t like to use let alone read, or have spoken or described so frankly. Maher breaks this little taboo and makes the reader confront it over and over again.
The second storyline is his relationship with the Saidhbh who is four years older than he is. I wonder if the genders had been reversed if this would have introduced a darker element as there is quite a difference between the ages 14 to 18. Despite her apparently strong religious convictions, they both engaged in a very passionate affair that leads to the third and final plot twist where the drama finally starts to spiral out of control.
I think the plot could have been tighter as it seemed to jump from one thing to another. Maher spent rather too long in the beginning trying to portray Jim’s manic family life, that started out so solid and just the picture of what a good happy family should be. Despite this I never really felt like I got to know any of them – the narrative style is too busy and all the boyish slang just a little bit too much.
However, despite this it is still compelling and made me want to keep turning the pages which is something a book hasn’t done for me in absolutely ages. Unfortunately the ending was a little weird and I think taken too far. I think Maher was trying to contrast the old religious ways of Ireland to the new age (very eighties) hippy ‘Astral Science’ in London.
I get a feeling that there is an element of criticism to some parts of Irish culture, particularly their religious beliefs and how apart they feel from the rest of the world. Maher I felt had a lot he wanted to include in this novel but it did in part get jumbled along the way.
Nevertheless, it is a compelling story that is well written and managed to break through my bookish blues which should be recommendation enough.