Ripley Bogle

Ripley Bogle

by Robert McLiam Wilson

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A Cambridge dropout turned penniless drifter, the unforgettable Ripley Bogle takes us through the underbelly of London and into the surreal world of a vagabond. But Bogle is not your average bum. With a razor-sharp intellect, prodigious powers of perception, and better-than-average appearance ("Most movie stars would give their false back teeth for the kind of


A Cambridge dropout turned penniless drifter, the unforgettable Ripley Bogle takes us through the underbelly of London and into the surreal world of a vagabond. But Bogle is not your average bum. With a razor-sharp intellect, prodigious powers of perception, and better-than-average appearance ("Most movie stars would give their false back teeth for the kind of lived-in look that I possess"), Bogle careens through the wild streets of homelessness and Irish identity, all the while regaling us with the tale of his ragged Belfast past—and the events that led up to his extraordinary existence.

In a brilliant coupling of sardonic, self-deprecating wit and the lush lyricism of a poet, Robert McLiam Wilson brings us a fiercely modern character with an old soul. Imbued with a grace that is thoroughly at odds with his squalid world, Ripley Bogle gnaws at the fringes of society and skewers its fat heart. The result is a hilarious, unexpectedly touching novel that is destined to become a classic.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Award-winning Irish novelist Wilson is not exactly sentimental. His new protragonist, self-proclaimed bum Ripley Bogle, says of his Irishness, "[It's] crap promoted by Americans and professors of English."
Kirkus Reviews
Irish novelist Wilson's first book, published to considerable critical acclaim in the UK in 1989, has waited almost a decade to be issued here. Age has not treated this exuberant first-person account by an Irish vagrant of his life on London's streets particularly well. Ripley, a young man who has come to England fleeing both the violence in Northern Ireland and his own demons, is bright, angry, garrulous, and ultimately somewhat wearing. His record of his childhood in Belfast, his disastrous career at Cambridge, and his difficult, sometimes horrific, life in London is vivid, moving, but finally too long, flawed by an expansiveness (not uncommon to young novelists) that treats every event, even the most minor, as being worthy of mention. Still, Wilson possesses an infectious zest for language, and an unerring eye for the specifics of life on the street. His more recent novel, Eureka Street (not reviewed) demonstrated greater discipline with no diminution of inventiveness.

From the Publisher
"An astonishing performance, fluent, profound, angry. It made me laugh; it made me think; it made me envious."
—Irish Times (Dublin)

—Times (London)

"The eponymous antihero of this splendid anti-coming-of-age novel is a classic Irish rogue: handsome, charming, astute, articulate, arrogant, irresponsible, passionate—above all, a chap who can make you laugh three times per page. . . . Wilson masters even the strongest, most disparate influences (among them Rabelais, Sterne, Joyce, Beckett, Pynchon, the gonzo journalists), invents a portmanteau language of his own and, underneath all the wordplay, reveals with true eloquence the horrors of growing up during the Troubles."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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5.19(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Thank you.

    I seem to be spending increasing amounts of my time in thinkingabout my birth. This is, I freely admit, a futile thing to be doing. Theevent was, alas, poorly documented and my own recollections of itare ranged upon the impenetrable side of hazy. However, that isprobably how it was — more or less. I feel it in my bones.

    It must be said that now is not a good time for birthly thoughts.The world is but little like a womb at the moment, for me at any rate.For instance, a slow, inexorable pulse of cold shivering is in theprocess of threading its way from my coccyx to my liver and I'mdamp and dribbling and dank. I've run right out of fags and I have noteaten in rather more than three days. Now, does that soundwomblike to you? No, indeed.

    June. Lovely frozen June. Curiously enough, a large proportion ofEnglish folk tend fondly to think of the month of June as beingsituated during the summer. This is patently bollocks. Admittedly,the trees mount a spurious verdance and people endeavour to playfeeble cricket on a variety of blasted heaths but I can assure you thatthere is no way in which the term 'summer' can be justified. No way!Only we — we the destitute, the homeless, the vagabonds — only weknow the Siberian truth of an English June. We are its allies andconfidants. We are on first-name terms with its frozen strangle andfrosty grip.

    Thus, here I am in the middle of that month, with frostbittentesticles and iceberg feet, doing serious hand-to-hand withhypothermia. I'm so cold I'm not even hungry, for chrissakes!(ThoughMalnutrition and Attenuation coyly beckon withmild eyes and smiles urbane.) Yes, the cold is bad but fading slowly.I'm ignoring it as best I can. This seems the sensible course.Anyway, after a while, real cold — the proper Arctic assault — becomestheoretical. Like a disquieting intellectual conviction, it nagsbut fails to irritate. It anaesthetises against itself. Which is nice of it.All this gives the business of frostbite a kind of grotesque asceticrespectability but I could still do without it... that's just how I am.

    Just at the moment, I'm sitting on an icy parkbench in St James'sPark, grimly satirising the shoddy prismatic glimmer of evening. Thisis, I concede, a wildly emetic thing to be doing but my menu ofalternatives is not exactly encyclopaedic just now.

    Two curious things to be noted.

    First; despite the arse-numbing temperature and general highdiscomfort, I can't help feeling rather sentimental about this particularparkbound glide of twilight. I hate to say it but it looks as though theworld has really dressed up for me tonight. It must be goingsomewhere nice. If I knew it a little better I'd try to cadge a fiver orsomething. Now, that's aestheticism for you. I won't though. Theworld and I are a little sniffy with each other these days.

    The second thing to be noted is the fact that I am sitting on thisfrozen bench, threatening to flop over at any minute and die of purepoverty and all the while I am less than three hundred yards awayfrom Buckingham Palace. (This thought has an annoying tendency tomake me giggle hysterically.) The Queen is in there. Jesus, maybeshe's even sitting there at one of those rigid, blinking windows rightnow, watching me! Laughing at me while I get all Belsenesque andpissed on. (It's raining now. Fucking rain.) It wouldn't surprise me inthe least. I mean, the merest mutts in that place are better fed than Iam. Well, then again, the merest mutts in most places are better fedthan me, for that matter. (Here I giggle again like the true arseholethat I am.) It occurs to me that I am better educated better lookingand a nicer person than the Queen and yet I am still starving to deathin her front garden. What would Charlie Dickens have said aboutthis, I wonder?

    Actually, there is a third curious thing to be noted. The mostcapricious and witless of all and that is that I don't really mind toomuch about any of this. Not really. Not desperately.I mean to say, the fact that I am a filthy, foodless, cashless trampdoesn't seem to be bothering me in the way I'm sure it should. I mustbe off my chump. Since when has indigence been a breeding groundfor blithe insouciance? But there it is.In the midst of my poverty and degradation I am strangely,nebulously happy. Prat and irrepressible little cutie that I am, I sensethat things aren't after all so very bad. Needless to say, I am hugelymistaken. Things are very bad indeed and set fair for getting worse.Nevertheless, I view myself in thispure, cool moment; chastened and made lean by hardship. The fightis on but I'm standing still. Ducking and weaving is not for me. Ileave that to the well-fed, the wise. Okay, so I may well be missingthe old bedless, malnutritional, frostbitten point here but it matterslittle.

    Just think of what it gives me, this deprivation, this harshphilanthrope. Whoops! Rather frantically I scrabble for therecollection of what exactly it does give me. Ah! Oh yes, that's it.Of course.

    The gifts of thought and memory, that's what. Well, what else isthere? Thought and memory. I remember and I think.I have a lot of time and few true distractions. Yes indeed, being adown and out is quite vital to the formation of a truly incisiveintellectual mien. Think of Dickens and Orwell. Where would thosetwo have been without all that fruitful early pavement-licking?

    Thought and memory. Surprisingly good stuff. I confess that myintelligence is but sporadic in appearance but mnemotechny is myconstant, sturdy prop. Replicable moments — these are the sum ofmy little history. The revision. The milky thoughts and cloudyforgettings. Editor, I greet and shove reality, me and my naughtyauctorial caprices.

    With these I comfort myself. Wouldn't you?

More of me, I think. Some detail. Some background. Your measureand your gauge.

    My height is five feet and eleven inches. My weight is fluctuatingand not good at present, not good at all. My eyes are green (andfabulous!), my face is pale and my hair is dark — now prettyindeterminate due to a wily patina of filth and neglect but darkanyway. I am twenty-one years old, my name is Ripley Bogle andmy occupations are starving, freezing and weeping hysterically.

    I am part Welsh and part Irish. You will excuse my candour if Ipoint out that this is a fucking dreadful thing to be. I can neverquite make up my mind as to whom I loathe most ... the Welsh orthe Irish (the Welsh generally have it by a slim margin). The Irishside of my family is my mother's side. Now, all the Irish women Ihave ever known have been particularly hideous and you'll be glad tohear that my mother was no exception. A real old rolling fatbag.She's probably dead now, I like to think. Her father (my granddaddie)is still alive, I believe, pissing his life away on the dingy streets ofBelfast. His father, my maternal greatgrandfather, was the only Irishmember of my family ever to have held much of a position in theworld. This position was one of Official Hero. He attained thiseminence by having his legs and most of his testicles blown off atPasschendaele while fighting for the British nation against theGerman Army — while his brother (my greatgranduncle?) was havinghis head blown off on O'Connell Street while fighting for the Irishnation against the British Army in the Easter Rising. The rest of thefamily form the usual cast list of subhuman Gaelic scumbuckets.

    My father is definitely dead. This, I know. Though less physicallyrepulsive than my mother, he was much more of a bastard. Iremember fondly that he once tried to disembowel me with a brokenBass bottle. I think I was eight at the time. I would probably havemurdered the old shitpot eventually if he had not beaten me to it byemptying the majority of his vital organs over the kitchen floor oneday before I was old enough or big enough to slice him up on my ownaccount. I don't know a great deal about his antecedents. They were,undoubtedly, rancid Welsh fuckbags like himself.

Harsh? Unconvincing? Yes, a little perhaps. I don't quite knowwhy I bother with all this ballsaching fire and semi-satire. It doesn'treally suit me and I'm not terribly good at it. I was very good at beingcruel and offensive when I was younger. I had a flair for spite andblind condemnation. It all seemed such a good idea then, such auseful weapon and tool. Now, it seems feeble. A demi-truth — thehard half of nothing.

    History seems to have come to something of a stop for me. I optedout. I stepped off and bedded down in the crisp comfort of my ownfailure and decline. I just capitulated to the world and slipped awayas silently and unobtrusively as I could manage. Here I am and happyto be so. I haven't been indoors at all this year. Terrible, isn't it? Mymuscles and sinews wither from abuse and overtime. My flesh ispaling to grey with warmthlessness. I'm much more than a simpletramp. I'm a claustrophobic, a hermit, a prophet, a loser, a cipher!Bejabbers, I'm a symbol of the age! Big deal, suits me well enough.

    Now, I used to be a success of sorts. I used to be a wiseman, amoneyed, feted, soughtafter man. Now I'm nothing. Nobody knowsme and I barely exist. I'm going the way of all flesh, i.e. fading intoreality. The day before yesterday's man.

    Happily though, I have at least given up lying, carping and griping.I'm keeping an eye on my invective. I've declined the gage of youthand endeavour. I've backed out of that modern, worldly brawl. Itseemed only such a waste of time and I have a lot on my mind thesedays. I have a kind of purpose now, you see. (Portents, mystery,strange apparitions!) I'm on a quest, you might say. It sounds absurd,I know, but what can a poor boy do? Here in my poverty and myshame, amongst the debris of my aspirations and the rubble of mytalents. I have a kind of purpose.

    This is for what my story is. This is the sly map from which I shallexhume my goal, my task and treasure. This is where we are allgoing. You, me and my story (such as it is). That quest. My searchfor final, fundamental goodness in the world.

    There were and are such things as truth, honour, wisdom andbeauty to be had. It is just that they are difficult to find. They arefurtive and wary of the clamp of recognition, of that proof and loss offaith. They are succubi among the contentedevils of nowadays. But that is what I want. That's my baserequirement. What other should there be? The evidence andresidue of goodness in this one world.

(More, more, pile it on.)

Here in St James's Park, the evening has fallen slowly and dimly.Shadows roll and tumble in the cloudsprayed sky and the pond glowswith twilight shine. Oh, I wish to fuck I didn't have to look at this kindof thing!

    I stand up. The cold is actually beginning to embarrass me. It is sooddly surplus to requirements. I wink at the trees and flirt briefly withthe idea of stoning some ducks. But no, alas. Poverty does terriblethings to one's sense of humour. You need a little dosh to chortleadequately. No, it's time to walk. Which I do but gingerly, summoninga little fictional warmth and moistness to the creaky timbers of mylegs. This moment of maritime comfort is, however, quicklyoutflanked and upstaged by a blistering broadside of pain whichsplinters my spine, boils my brain and pillages my poor, poor kidneys.I wish ...

I wish I had a cigarette.


By Jerry Zeifman Former Chief Counsel, House Judiciary Committee


Copyright © 1995 Jerome Zeifman.All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Robert McLiam Wilson is a native of Belfast whose work has won the Rooney Prize and the Irish Book Award, and has been shortlisted for the Whitbread Award.

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