The Holy City

The Holy City

by Patrick McCabe, Humphrey Bower

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"In this novel, Chris McCool, the dandyish, debonair playboy of a small and insulated community called The Happy Club, reflects on his two lives: the one he lives, and the darker one he's tried hard to forget. The illegitimate son of a rich Protestant Landowner's wife and a poor Catholic farmer, Chris wanted to be a sixties swinger - driving a Ford Cortina, owning… See more details below


"In this novel, Chris McCool, the dandyish, debonair playboy of a small and insulated community called The Happy Club, reflects on his two lives: the one he lives, and the darker one he's tried hard to forget. The illegitimate son of a rich Protestant Landowner's wife and a poor Catholic farmer, Chris wanted to be a sixties swinger - driving a Ford Cortina, owning a pair of purple velvet flares - but, despite his good intentions, could not overcome the mysteries and regrets of his own upbringing." Author Patrick McCabe gives us a narrator whose own insecurities, and most importantly his obsession with a young Catholic Nigerian boy named Marcus Otoyo, prevent him from seeing the truth about what he is capable of. Are Chris's inner struggles with his parentage and religion merely personal quests - or do they mask an angrier, more dangerous person beneath?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

McCabe (Winterwood) delivers a claustrophobic indictment of failed peace and love, as seen through the eyes of a nut job Irish baby boomer. C.J. "Pops" McCool, the illegitimate son of a wealthy, married housewife, is raised by a surrogate mother in the "Nook," a plot of land buried deep within his birth mother's estate. However, when candy-striped blazers and the Kinks enter his world, McCool dives headlong into the swinging lifestyle, developing an unhealthy attachment to a Nigerian teenager and dating an older woman. As McCool's cultural obsessions grow out of control, he acts on a taboo impulse and starts a chain of events that leads to his institutionalization. Nearly 40 years later, living with a doting wife, McCool attempts to reconcile his youth with his supposedly cured present state. At turns irate, mystified and nostalgic, McCool's reminiscences stand as a haunting rejoinder to his youth's groovy promise. McCabe's dynamic and flawed antihero is a creepy delight, the perfect guide to some very dark material. (Jan.)

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Library Journal

The bastard offspring of a married Protestant woman and her Catholic lover, retired dairyman Chris McCool spends his days recollecting people and events from the late Sixties. He thinks of Marcus Otoyo, a pious Irish-Nigerian Catholic youth, and a failed affair with Dolly Mixtures, a flirtatious Ulster Protestant beauty who inflamed the locals of Cullymore, a rural Dublin suburb, with her provocative dress and habits. Otoyo's mixed parentage, Dolly's religion and sexuality, and McCool's personal history suggest the cultural tensions that pervade his narrative. Through McCool, whose name ironically evokes the mythical Celtic hunter Fionn mac Cumhaill (anglicized as Finn McCool) as well as a campy Irish hipness, McCabe brilliantly describes a socially fractured, consumerist Ireland populated by aging outcasts from formally dominant clans as well as immigrants representing a globalized Irish middle class. McCool retreats from this world to the Happy Club, an imaginary realm he inhabits with his Croatian girlfriend, where they listen to soft-rock hits and buy vintage clothes on eBay. Fans of McCabe's previous work, especially Breakfast on Pluto and Call Me the Breeze, will enjoy this weirdly absorbing and ultimately disturbing novel.
—J. G. Matthews

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Bolinda Publishing Pty, Limited
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5.37(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.50(d)

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A Novel

Copyright © 2009

Patrick McCabe
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59691-611-1

Chapter One C.J. Pops, International Celeb

Now entering upon one's sixty-seventh year, one is at pains to recall such a blissful degree of contentment - ever. Welcome to the Happy Club, where our good fortune and well-being continue apace. Further enhancing the union of the lovely Vesna and her dutiful, respectful and ever-apprecative spouse: yours truly, Chris J. McCool - at your service, just call me Pops.

It has been remarked, of late, I have not failed to notice, how well I tend to look for my age - and in spite of a recent hip replacement too, I might add, necessitating the use of a walking cane. Dashing is a word which has - and not so infrequently, either - been generously and spontaneously applied. Such good-natured appreciations of one's status encouraging me daily to disport myself, as of old, in the smartest of neat blue blazers with brightly polished brass buttons, complete with white loafers and razor-creased grey slacks, a Peter Stuyvesant King Size cigarette (the international passport to smoking pleasure!) louchely dawdling between my lips. Completing the image - kinky, Pops, if that's your bag! - with just the teeniest sprinkling of Monte Carlo Man - the most expensive aftershave available on the market. I jest - there being no such fragrance in existence, of course. Old Spice, as ever, sufficing admirably, liberally sprinkled across the lantern jaw of 'retired businessman' Christopher J. McCool - 'Cullymore citizen', and refined boulevardier of some local distinction.

In passing, perhaps flippantly, there has been the somewhat flattering suggestion, tall and handsome as I am considered to be, of a more than passing resemblance to a certain Roger Moore, the cool, suave, unflappable star of stage and cinema screen. Who is perhaps best remembered for his portrayal of Simon Templar, the Saint, a self styled 'jet-setting, country club' schmoozer very popular on television in the mid- to late-sixties. And that, of course, in later years, of that other post-war icon, the extremely sophisticated Mr James 'Licence to Kill' Bond, Ian Fleming's similarly enduring creation. A piece of intelligence which, were he to have become acquainted with it, my dearest old papa would, I feel confident, have found immensely gratifying. Dr Thornton being something of a sophisticated gentleman himself, of course - bred of the noblest, verifiably Protestant stock.

With his eighteenth-century Palladian-style mansion set in its sumptuous, painstakingly maintained grounds, boasting many priceless works of art, a 'capital' stables, and an absurd number of capacious and magnificently appointed rooms. Not to mention the extensive wainscoted library, with so many leather-bound spines glinting in the amber firelight, Father being something of a literary critic and essayist in his own right. Amongst those bookish treasures some of the world's finest works of literature. Most notably, perhaps, those of James Joyce, including both Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A volume of which, in later years, for a variety of reasons, I was to become excessively, even - dare I say it - obsessively, fond. How proud he would have been of my artistic inclinations.

They could possibly have influenced him, who can tell? To the extent that he might even have come to regard me as a perfectly reasonable and valid human being. Not to mention his son and heir. Sired though I was at the back of a barn, by a representative of that most despicable breed, which he loathed with all his being, and routinely defined as 'Catholic scum'.

Chapter Two Abide With Me

In recent times, reinvigorated here in the modest quietude of the Happy Club, I have made it my business assiduously to proceed with the redecoration of our fine fourth-floor apartment. My latest purchases including a delightfully ornate Moroccan carpet, which I sourced on the web, and a Peter Blake print of the singer Alma Cogan - which, can you believe it, I actually found here in Cullymore East, in a little antique shop located along the Plaza. Also the loveliest low mahogany table, complete with polished inlaid chessboard. With which I like to amuse myself for protracted periods - whenever I'm not listening to Andy Williams or the Carpenters, one of their songs in particular seeming to provide the soundtrack to our new life.

- We've only just begun, sings Karen in that warm, mesmerising, melted-caramel voice, as I ease my head on to the comforting slopes of my beloved Vesna's bosom, drawing languidly on my Peter Stuyvesant, staring dreamily out at the stars.

- Can't take my eyes off you, croons Andy, as Vesna smiles and I run my fingers through her hair, kissing her frail shoulders, all along her pale freckled arm, as I whisper in her ear:

- In love's holy city for ever now we two entwine.

We tend to retire early now, as a rule, and I can think of no greater comfort than the two of us just lying here, in that easeful silence we have signally made our own. With Vesna looking as delectable as ever, her helmet of hair gleaming platinum in the light. What with her Dreamland nightdress and Max Factor make-up, she almost makes the perfect model. Every inch as striking as Grace Kelly, say, or the remote but elegant Kim Novak in Hitchcock's Vertigo. Which has always been a favourite of mine. We rarely even bother going out any more. Domestic bliss - our very own club.

- To sir with love, continues Lulu - with another of our special 'mellow mood' favourites.

As I turn down the lights in our Happy Club home, fondly nibbling her ear as I lean in and whisper:

- Night, Vesna.

- Night night, Christopher. Chris my dearest, debonair darling.

Although, obviously, she doesn't use the word 'debonair'. For Vesna, poor thing, she can barely speak English. As, sifting her fair hair lovingly through my fingers:

- Je t'aime, I sigh, in my Serge Gainsbourg accent, as once more our flesh becomes one, a salutary, defiant celebration of love, that obstinately enduring, quite indomitable city. The most sacred place on Jesus God's green earth. And I should know for it's there I abide each and every single night.

- The holy city, I whimper anew.

As I crush my eager lips to hers.

Whenever I do actually bother going down to the pub, which is situated just beyond the Plaza, I always endeavour to look my best, as if nothing is wrong or out of the ordinary - for I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea. And if they ever do actually enquire after Vesna and her welfare, I will always supply the usual excuse - that she's gone to visit her mother in Dubrovnik.

In the days before her quite appalling transgression - she committed adultery, I'm afraid I have to say - there were times when we would have gone out, why at the very least three times a week.

- Chris darlink, I is ready in moment, you would hear her say.

- Tsssssk, or - About bloody time! I would reply, as off we trotted hand in hand across the Plaza, on our way yet again to engage in a little 'swinging' - to 'get with' the 'fab' Mood Indigo beat.

Which of course has been cleverly targeted at us, the 'baby boomers', as we're called. Who, with our surplus cash and steadfast refusal to accept the passage of time are the perfect customers. Snapping our fingers as we bop till we drop, our hair turning silver like our hero Burt Bacharach. Yes, that's us: we're the 'groovy cats', the 'in crowd' of old. Yes, there they go, with their beads 'n' blue jeans - it's Pops and the Group - doing the Watusi out under the stars.

Not that there was much Watusi-ing going on in the little town where I happened to grow up. Indeed, to be honest, the only one who approached the status of trendsetter in the small and quite unremarkable village known as Cullymore was a rambunctious scallywag I happened to know at school, an eccentric, free-spirited individual who went by the name of Teddy 'the Hippy' Maher. Teddy had lived in America for a while and he was obsessed with California and 'the Summer of Love'.

- I'm telling you, Christy my man, he used to say to me, it's all happening out there. It's a revolution, buddy - there's no other word. It's crazy, Chris! Soon as I get my shit together, I'm heading right back - back to Haight-Ashbury and the groove!

It was around the time that Teddy did actually go back that I purchased my first ensemble of Carnaby Street-style 'gear', a blouson-style shirt, a psychedelic matching-collar-and-tie paisley affair in swirling pink. Yeah, crazy, groove - thangs! I used to repeat in what I perceived to be a fashionable American drawl, flamboyantly parading in front of the bedroom mirror.

But, lest I digress, let me return to my subject and share with you some facts about the club, Mood Indigo, this blue-lit, glass-walled theatre of musical delights to which I repeatedly, approvingly refer. In its heyday, there really and truly was nothing to compare with it. It was absolutely fantastic, it really was, and it's no wonder we'd look forward to it. I liked nothing better in those early days than getting myself spruced up and heading out that door, clasping the hand of my 'foreign chic' girlfriend (think Elke Sommer, think Daliah Lavi), the sophisticated, statuesque, stunning-looking Vesna.

How I used to look forward to watching her getting ready. Being so particular about her appearance, she could spend an absolute age at it - dolling and prettying herself up even more, tugging on her crocheted mini or slipping into a chequered A-line dress. Her hair - as always (more Kim than Elke or Daliah, really) - piled up in that awesome, lacquered, great blonde tower.

Sometimes - just for fun - she'd incorporate this little dance she'd invented into the process, wiggling her fingers as she crooned Lulu or maybe Clodagh Rodgers. Both of whom we loved twisting to on the flashing multicoloured Mood Indigo floor. After a daiquiri or a couple of manhattans.

- Come back and shake me, take me in your arms! I'd shimmy. As Vesna, for her part, did her best to emulate the diminutive redheaded soul crooner from Glasgow, shaking her hips - it was quite hysterical! - as she sang:

- My heart goes boom bank a bank when you is near!

About as far from Lulu's voice, I used to think, as the village of Cullymore was from the war-torn streets of suffering old Croatia.

One night we arrived at the club, Pops the Groover with his 'chick' on his arm, to find that the MC, my old pal Mike, was already more than halfway through his set. As usual, of course, as soon as he saw us coming through the door, he launched straight away into his absurdly daft version of a random Beatles medley. With 'I Am the Walrus' delivered, as usual, in his own inimitable style. That cleft palate of his, it really was hilarious:

- I am the Eggmah! he bawled, wrenching notes from the guitar as he grimaced. I am the Walnut!

- What a character, I said to Vesna, as we took our usual seat by the window.

- Whisky and soda, I requested, snapping my fingers, and the lady I think will have a margarita.

- Certainly, sir, yes of course, sir. Very nice to see you again, Mr McCool.

- Just call me Pops, I beamed, C.J. Pops, international playboy, ha ha.

When I knew Mike Corcoran back in St Catherine's, I have to say that really for me he was a kind of lifeline. He used to have me in stitches, with no end of cracks, crazy quips and daft sayings. Mike Martinez he calls himself now, and his stage outfit has to be seen to be believed.

- You gotta stay one step ahead of the punters, Pops, he'll tell me.

Direct from Vegas, his poster reads, and with that ludicrous fake tan he sure looks the part. Dripping in gold, with the sweat running off him, more than anything what he suggests is the fatal offspring of Julio Iglesias and Engelbert Humperdinck. But he's not bothered. Nope, as far as old Mike Martinez is concerned, no one in showbiz even comes close to him and his combo. So night after night, there's no stopping old Mike, shaking those maracas and doing the cha-cha like there's no tomorrow, as the bright and breezy xylophone chimes. While he shakes his hips and does the bossa nova. Schmoozing, as always, for the ladies.

- Yes, it's lounge! It's hi-fidelity! It's soft, it's lush but more than anything, it flows - we're the Chordettes, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome tonight to the world of Mood Indigo. Enjoy!

Like Mike always used to say - laughter is your friend: the crutch that enables you, against the odds, to make it through. And it's great to have that, really it is. For one thing I would hate is in any way to sound at all bitter about my upbringing. What purchase could there possibly be in that? And I don't want to end up blaming poor old Henry Thornton either.

It was just his attitude - that had always been the Protestant way. Henry Thornton prided himself more than anything on his aristocratic lineage and ascendancy heritage. And the time-honoured qualities they had instilled in him. Which he had described in his books as that 'sovereign, autonomous, self-contained ego formation against all possible incursions or admixtures, endogenous or exogenous'. The muscular Protestant character, he insisted, must at all times be secured against both its own passions and the invasions of others. For Henry Thornton, the ethos of uncompromising, hard-headed, rational self-interest could only serve to advance this imperative. Consequently, to him, all Catholics were to be apprehended as both unreasonable and quite hysterical - as the creatures of their own effeminate imaginations, the banshees.

How he must have reacted to the penetration of his wife by 'one of them' can only be imagined. Not to mention the fact that issue had succeeded their vile congress in the barn that night. In the final analysis, he informed her if she ever so much as looked in my direction, or associated my despicable existence 'in any way' with the big house, she would end up disgraced. She would die on the road like her peasant Fenian friends during the famine.

As regards my mother's furtive nocturnal visits to the little farmhouse where I grew up, I cannot say I remember a great deal. Except that they were welcome and pleasant, shrouded as they were in a kind of exotic mystery. It seemed to me, as a small boy, that she and her female companion came from a world wholly alien, albeit quite beautiful. One that was fragrant and all their own. One where elegance and 'ladylike poise' were prized above all else.

They wore gloves and tweed skirts and strings of pure white pearls. They spoke in accents with cut-glass vowels, which had clearly originated far from Cullymore, perhaps in London or the Home Counties of England. The mild-mannered companion, whose name was Ethel Baird, seemed remote in her eccentric attire - a veiled pillbox hat and what she habitually referred to as 'overshoes' - expressly purchased for her visits to the Nook, which was what they called the farmhouse, and which was located at the far end of the estate, across three muddied and thistled rough fields. Where Wee Dimpie McCool, my guardian, took the place of my mother - and who often wept on their departure, I remember.

It was Ethel Baird, in fact, who had given me the book - my golden treasury, a volume of Robert Louis Stevenson rhymes. On a day long ago in the year 1950.

- This is for you, I recall her saying softly, as she carefully, patiently and methodically turned the pages, showing me the delicate illustrations of the constellations: those fantailihg sprays of glittering diamonds that adorned the gleaming night-blue cover.

Ethel and my birth mother had been friends all their lives. They were fond of Wee Dimpie but would never consort with her socially - they couldn't.

Orthodox Protestant ladies - high-bred and discreet.

Obviously it would have been better to have a proper mother like anyone else but Wee Dimpie was a rock, in the circumstances, I have to say. There is not a bad word I could say about the woman. And she never tried hiding things, or telling me any lies.

- So that's who she was, I used to say when I got older, that's who she was - the 'mystery' lady! With her airs and graces and presents and food. My my! My own mother!

No, no 'mammy' on earth could have tended to my needs any better than Dimpie. Why, her breakfasts alone were enough to feed an army.

- Me auld pal Chrishty! she used to say to me. That took his name after the besht auld saint of all!

- She's Lady Thornton, isn't she, my mother? She's the wife of Henry Thornton of the Manor. Isn't she, Dimple? Please tell me the truth.

- Yes, she'd say then, shuffling off with a bucket, scratching her backside as she wiped her mouth and shouted 'Chawk chuck chuck!', a scatter of red hens charging raucously across the yard.


Excerpted from THE HOLY CITY by PATRICK McCABE Copyright © 2009 by Patrick McCabe. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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