The Fields: A Novel

( 1 )


A warm and funny debut about a young man in trouble and a family in love and in pieces.

It's the first summer of lust for 14-year-old Jim Finnegan, a boy trying to become a man in 1980s Dublin. Jim's vivid and winning voice leaps off the page and into the reader's heart as he watches his parents argue, his five older sisters fight, and the local network of mothers gossip. Jim hilariously recounts his life dealing with the politics of his boisterous family, taking breakneck bike ...

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The Fields: A Novel

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A warm and funny debut about a young man in trouble and a family in love and in pieces.

It's the first summer of lust for 14-year-old Jim Finnegan, a boy trying to become a man in 1980s Dublin. Jim's vivid and winning voice leaps off the page and into the reader's heart as he watches his parents argue, his five older sisters fight, and the local network of mothers gossip. Jim hilariously recounts his life dealing with the politics of his boisterous family, taking breakneck bike rides with his best friend, dancing to Foreigner on his boombox, and quietly coveting the local girls from afar.

Over the summer, Jim wins the attention of a beautiful older girl-but he also becomes the unwilling target of a devious religious figure in the community. His life starts to unravel as he faces consequences from both his love for his girlfriend and his attempts to avoid the Parish Priest. When he and his girlfriend take a ferry for a clandestine trip to London, the dark and difficult repercussions from the trip force Jim to look for the solution to all his problems in some very unusual places.

THE FIELDS is an unforgettable story of an extraordinary character. It's a portrait of a boy who sinks into troubles as he grows into a man, and the loving but fractured family that might be his downfall-or his salvation. Lyrical, funny, and endlessly inventive, it is a brilliant debut from a remarkable new voice.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

With five outspoken older sisters and a very watchful mother, Dublin teenager Jim Finnegan spends his days among women, but for a 14-year-old boy with hormones, they are not exactly the girls with whom he wants to dally. Though self-conscious, shy, and fumbling, he somehow becomes manage to get involved with an attractive 18-year-old, but even before he and his new girlfriend decide to make a clandestine ferry trip to London, he becomes the prey of choice of an exceptionally stern parish priest. Set in the eighties, The Fields is a sweetly funny debut about a young man navigating a stormy path between adolescence and manhood.

Publishers Weekly
This ambitious novel from Dublin-born, London-based journalist Maher observes its cheeky 14-year-old narrator Jim Finnegan’s coming-of-age in mid-1980s Dublin with humor and verve. The youngest child of office-equipment salesman Matt and devoutly religious Devida, Jim has five sisters, but he is closest to Fiona. His life is blighted after the repulsive Father Luke O’Culigeen recruits Jim to serve as the parish altar boy, sexually abusing him until Jim’s “hard as nails” Aunty Grace comes to the rescue. Jim’s own mistakes contribute to his troubles, as when his girlfriend, Saidhbh Donohue, a “vision of pure beauty” four years his senior, announces she is pregnant. Meanwhile, his father is struck down with debilitating lymphoma. Feeling desperate, Jim decamps with Saidhbh to London, where Aunty Grace lives, and, in a far-fetched stab at finding the solution to everyone’s problems, trains at the School of Astral Sciences to become a “fully-fledged healing machine” with the ability to observe people’s “auric fields.” The strong voice Maher creates for his protagonist, rich with the slang of working-class Dublin, provides the most lasting impression in this solid debut. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic Inc. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

"A joy to read: fresh, funny, moving, and always unexpected."—Kate Atkinson, author of Life After Life and Case Histories

Kate Atkinson

"A joy to read: fresh, funny, moving, and always unexpected."

Kirkus Reviews
The narrator's breathless, slang-rich voice distinguishes this "luck of the Irish" coming-of-age story. Debut novelist Maher gives us Jim Finnegan, a fast-talking, high-spirited young man. Jim is the only son in a family of six. He shares a bedroom with his sister Fiona, takes lip from older twin sisters Sarah and Siobhan, an overworked mom and an irritable dad. Jim becomes acquainted with ne'er-do-well Declan Morrissey, aka Mozzo, who is going with the beautiful Saidhbh. He meets trouble in the form of the parish priest, O'Culigeen. Though just a wee lad of 14, and with early '80s pop music providing the backbeats, Jim is dubbed Finno the madser when he begins a relationship with the older, devout Saidhbh, a great admirer of the dreadful O'Culigeen. The comedy is low and plentiful; the sins various and cringe-worthy. But the story, complicated and plotty, isn't the draw: the language is. "Go on now, ye ride, get them off ye, ye sexy little who-ers!" Or "So soft, and so warm, like a dreamy five-fingered skin-plug into the flex of her soul." Or "...I add that love is good and God is love and love is sex and sex is love and if love is good and God is good and sex is love than God is sex then sex is good is God." Unless you fall for Jim's Irish-English speech, you might not finish this book.
The Guardian
It's not often, reading a first novel, that you can settle back with a happy sigh, confident that you're in safe hands...Fresh, beguiling, and laugh-out-loud funny on every page, this must be the most enjoyable Irish novel since Skippy Dies."
The Times (London)
"Magic and weirdly moving."
Library Journal
In 1984, Dubliner Jim Finnigan is 13 years old. The youngest child and only son in a family of eight, he has Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy" playing on a loop in his head as he grapples with sex, familial dysfunction, and the predations of Father O'Culigeen, a parish priest obsessed with Hollywood actors Burt Reynolds and David Hasselhoff. Jim finds a stabilizing influence in Saidhbh Donohue, a stunning 17-year-old. Despite the age difference, they begin dating the day after Jim's 14th birthday. The neighborhood is scandalized, but Saidhbh grows more convinced that their bond is divinely directed. When she becomes pregnant, the couple flee to London where Jim tries to heal an increasingly fragile Saidhbh. Will he heal himself as well? VERDICT This first novel by journalist Maher signals a breakthrough voice in contemporary fiction, recalling Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and the works of Irish novelist Dermot Healy. Jim's voice conveys a rare lyricism that is terribly funny and cruelly sad; it transcends the book's infuriating conclusion and will remain with readers long after they finish reading. [See Prepub Alert, 2/4/13].—John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316223560
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 8/13/2013
  • Pages: 390
  • Sales rank: 1,552,449
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.33 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Maher was born and raised in South Dublin. He moved to London to begin a career in journalism in 1994. He was Film Editor of the Face for five years, and has written features and film criticism for the Guardian, the Observer, and Time Out. For the last seven years he has been a feature writer, critic, and columnist for The Times. He lives in England with his wife and three children. THE FIELDS is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

The Fields

A Novel

By Kevin Maher

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2014 Kevin Maher
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-22356-0


Summer Loving

Helen Macdowell gets hit in the face with a hockey ball. That's how it starts. Yes. The beginning of the end. All downhill from there. Helen's beautiful. She's got this light brown wavy flowy hair that curls back from her forehead. Her face is round, and her nose is soft and slightly ski-slopey. Her lips are browny pink, but shiny with lipgloss. And her eyes, Jesus, her eyes are crystal blue, really clear blue, no dirty bits in the blue. She's beautiful and she's going to be a nurse, or an air hostess, or a private investigator. At least that's what my sister Fiona says, and she should know. Fiona and Helen used to knock around together before Helen became too beautiful to have friends. They were best buddies once upon a time, and used to cut their fingers and stick the bloody bits together and pretend that they were witches and all the rest. Then Helen got boobs, nice hair and beautiful skin, and stopped knocking round with anyone except herself.

So, she's standing there, the best-looking girl on the black gravel pitch, wearing make-up and everything. Bully one, bully two, bully three's all done, and the sun's streaking down, battering the hockey girls good and hard. They're sweating in their short slate-gray gym skirts and their tight light-blue aertex tops, and we're cheering from the sidelines.

Go on now, ye ride, get them off ye, ye sexy little who-ers!

The nuns are looking round, scowling, pointing fingers, and we're loving it.

School's out, summer lovin, havin a blast.

And Helen's just standing there. Center of the pitch. Staring.

I don't notice it at first, but the lads do.

They say, all giddy, Ooooooh, Finnegan, she's looking at you!

Looking at me?! Bollocks!

Yeah, looking at your bollocks all right!

But it's obvious, yes, she's looking straight at me. I turn my face away and go puce. I count to five while looking at the sideline grass and thinking about my whole family getting squished through a giant mincer like in the song on telly. But the funny thing is, when I turn back I notice that she's not really looking looking at me. Not giving me the eye or anything. She's just kind of staring into space, but at me.

Even so, the lads are going wild, saying that she wants to ride me, and touch me mickey, and all that stuff, only I'm feeling a bit sick from her stare. Her lips are curled downish, and her crystal-blue eyes are fizzing fire at me. She looks sad too, like she's feeling sorry for me, like she wants to shake her head and say, "You poor poor prat." I feel dizzy. I need to stand up, shake my head and turn away again. I want to go home to my mam.

But before I can do anything, it happens.


Holy fuckster! one of the lads yells, as everyone goes spare. Helen Macdowell has just got a hockey ball in the mouth. There's teeth-bits everywhere, red teeth-bits. She opens up her mouth in agony and you can see that her lips are all puffed and slit and stabbed with bits of red teeth. Her face swells up in front of us. Blood pours out of her mouth. Like she's getting sick, and instead of puke there's blood coming out. The girl who hit her, Mary Davit, a big bruiser of a thing, is sitting in a heap on the ground, crying. Helen isn't crying yet. She's pawing her face, trying to feel the outline of her lumps and bumps. She's surrounded by the nuns, like a flock of nervous magpies, who keep the girls away. The others are still sweating in their skirts and shirts, but they're mostly whispering to each other and comforting Mary Davit. Someone whispers, Stupid bitch, that'll teach her!

After tapping and tipping her face for a few seconds, Helen lets her head drop to her chest and just screams the whole hockey pitch to pieces. Really screams. Like when you're being chased down a dark alley by a fella with a big carving knife in a Halloween horror flick. That loud! And to prove it, she lashes out at the nuns and starts to run for her life. Seriously. She runs straight off the hockey pitch, through the long grass, and out the main school gates on to the Ballydown Road. Screaming all the time, that carving-knife-horror-flick scream. And running, not stopping.

Maura Connell saw her running full pelt past Quinnsworth's at two o'clock that afternoon. Helen Macdowell, the most beautiful girl on the hockey team, with her browny wavy hair flowing away from her, her crystal eyes on fire, and her battered minced-meat face shiny with blood. Blood pouring down her neck from her slash-hole mouth, all over her aertex gym shirt.

The rumor going round The Rise says that Helen was eventually wrestled to the ground by two shopping center security guards inside Murray's chemist shop. She was in deep shock, and trying her damnedest to buy a jumbo refill of lipgloss.

We'd never seen anything like that around our place before. Not right in front of our eyes. You always heard about it, though. Through friends of friends. Or when The Mothers got together for coffee mornings. They'd sit around in a steamy kitchen circle like four mad witches, and dip ginger-snaps into Maxwell House until they went wobbly warm, and take turns at saying, Jahear about so-and-so, Lord rest his soul, only thirty years old, poor creature!?

They were brilliant at it. Scaring the shite out of each other, grinning inside, but on the outside all sad, just breaking up the day between ironing, washing and making sausage, spuds and parsnip dinners for the dads on their way home from work with their newspapers and their tired faces.

Of course, they'd go all hushed if they saw one of us coming in from the telly room. They'd lean in together and start talking with their mouths closed, or speaking in code. But most of the time, sitting in silence on the floor with the telly on low and the door half open, we got the gist.

For instance, there was Kent Foster, died of skin cancer aged twenty, God rest his soul. Kent was mad into the sunbathing. Every summer, down there on the black tarmac behind the five-a-side pitch, in his brown speedos, lathered in sunflower oil, like a Malteser covered in spit.

English blood! The Mothers would say.

With that name!

Right you are, Maisie.

Then one summer Kent just disappeared. No one knew where. No one except The Mothers.

Jahear about Kent Foster? No? Well, poor soul's down in the gym, he spots a little black freckle on his thigh, and two months later he's stone dead. Cancer! Riddled with the stuff! Only twenty years old, God rest his soul!

Cancer, death, only twenty! It's music to their ears, like the sound of a starter gun.

And so, stories at the ready, champing at the bit, they're off.

Gary's mam is thinking, I can beat that one hands down!

Mozzo's mam is racking her brains, scratching her fag packet and trying to remember that recent tragedy she heard about from her brother-in-law in Finglas.

And Maisie O'Mally, the crinkly septuagenarian from number 43, is faking it, saying, Did you hear about what's his name, who fell into the river?

Luckily, Gary's mam, the old reliable, cuts her dead. Not as bad as Neil Cody! she says.

Neil Cody is this boy from Mount Merrion, only fifteen. He's a bit of a swat, and likes to read his daddy's newspaper every day. So one Sunday morning, still in his pajamas, he grabs the paper, the Indo, hot off the kitchen table and, dead excited, brings it up to his bedroom for a good ole read. Half an hour goes by. No sound from above. An hour. Nothing.

Imagine it! says Gary's mam, Silence from upstairs, what do you think? He's fallen asleep with the papers, the little dote, yes?

Well, no one's heard a peep out of Neil in three hours, so his mam runs up the stairs, knocks on his door, goes into his room, and there he is, dead as a dodo, flat out on the bed, a stream of blood coming out of his nostrils and down on to the funnies. He's had a brain hemorrhage and died. Just like that!

The Mothers all bless themselves and mutter things about St. Anthony and Jesus and the apostles. Gary's mam is feeling happy with herself, and everyone thinks that she's won the competition hands down when Mozzo's mam lights up a John Player and says, dramatically, And of course, you've all heard about poor June Shilaweh?

Gary's mam freezes and, furious, aware that she's going to be trumped, shakes her head.

Mozzo's mam nods gravely to herself, as if she's not sure whether she should continue.

My mam tells her to hurry up and put them out of their misery.

The Shilawehs, Mozzo's mam says, are an African family, black as night, who've moved to the Villas.

The Villas! everyone goes in unison, groaning at the thought of that long line of little boxy terraced houses down the back of the estate. To hell or to the Villas! They couldn't've picked a worse spot if they tried, the eejits. Worse than the bloody jungles they've come from.

The Mothers all laugh at this, though they hold their hands over their mouths as they do.

So, the Shilawehs are trying to settle into life in the Villas. They say, Hello, good morning, to all their neighbors, even the ones who say Fuck off nigger to their faces. They send their only daughter, June, to the local girls Catholic school, Mother of Sorrow, or just The Sorrows for short, which is the one that my sisters go to, and the one that Helen Macdowell went to before she lost her face. And Mr. Shilaweh gets a job stacking envelopes at Ryan's post office. The one thing that's missing is a bike. Little June Shilaweh has never had a bike, and now that she's in the free world and out of the jungle she wants one.

Indeed, interrupts Maisie, what would you want a bicycle for in the jungle? It'd only get whipped by the monkeys!

The Mothers do their hand-covering-mouth laugh again.

Anyway, little June Shilaweh gets a bike from her dad, who's saved up all his post-office money to pay for it. She hasn't even had it a week when she cycles up Clannard Road, gets overtaken by a juggernaut, swivels and turns, falls off the bike and goes right under the rear wheels. Crushed to death on the spot.

The Mothers all sigh in silence and avoid looking each other in the eye.

And you know the worse bit? says Mozzo's mam, teasing and toying. Johnno Mac, who works in Mangan's Hairdressers right outside the crash spot on Clannard Road, said he had to clean up after the truck was gone. Said that little June had no head left, swear to God, it was popped like a pimple under the weight of the truck. Ambulance just dragged a headless corpse inside, and the poor Shilawehs had to identify their daughter by the handlebars that were still stuck into her innards when they arrived.

Mozzo's mam has gone too far. My mam shoots up, leans against the sink, and says that she's doing sprouts tonight and you know how long them feckers take to peel. Gary's mam says that she'll walk Maisie home, even though it's only four houses down. Mozzo's mam, quickly getting the message, stands up to leave.

She sticks her head into the telly room and tells me that Mozzo's coming back today and he'll be dying to see me.

Mam, Gary's mam and Maisie mess about with coats until Mozzo's mam is out the door, and then they agree that she's a lovely girl, but a bit crude.

The fella left her, of course, says Gary's mam, left her with that little animal!

Meaning Mozzo.


The Turnip Incident

I have known Mozzo for only two months and already we are best friends. His hair is long, jet black and deliberately messy, he has a tiny hint of a greasy mustache on his pale upper lip, and he's the first person I tell about Helen Macdowell. He sits on my bed with his legs crossed and his shiny thirty-two-hole docs tucked neatly under each thigh. He rocks back'n'forth, picks at his faded red Iron Maiden T-shirt and says Fuckin Jaysus! out loud when I describe the moment of impact. He's so impressed that I tell him again, straight away, only this time I add a little extra gore, just to see his eyes pop even more. I tell him the sound the ball made when it hit her mouth.


I describe little splatlets of blood flying off into the air from her burst lips. I describe her head shooting back on her neck like a boxer's punchball. And I describe the blood. Buckets of it. Everywhere.

Mozzo's impressed. He rocks back'n'forth at the top of the bed, right under the poster of a parked Porsche, doors open.

Fuckin hell, Finno! he says, over and over again. Fuckin hell, Finno, that's mad!

My Toshiba boom box plays Survivor at full volume. I am pleased.

Mozzo's normally the one telling the stories. He's good at it too. His dad was a fisherman who worked out of Dublin port and used to fish at night, and take drugs during the day. He beat Mozzo's mam, Janet, at least once a week and then left her to raise Mozzo alone. But before he left he did loads of things that Mozzo turned into great stories. Like the time he came in pissed from work and held a knife to Janet's throat. How does it feel, wagon? he said. How does it feel?

Or the time he set himself on fire in front of the telly and didn't even notice because he was too far gone on booze and drugs. Mad. Or the time he threw a gas cylinder through the neighbor's front window because they complained about the smell coming off his fish van.

I'll give ye fish, ye stuck-up bastards! he said, and then he threw a big black plastic bag of fish guts through the hole where the window used to be. Mozzo said it was mad. The police came and everything, and they had to move houses in the end.

Mozzo's real name is Declan Morrissey, but even his mam calls him Mozzo. Fellas like him are always called something-o. There's loads of them down in the Villas. And they all know each other. Micko, Macko, Johnno, Backo, Stapo, Ryano, Freyno, Gavvo, Devo, Rocko, Knocko, Dicko, Mallo, Heno, Feno, Hylo and so on. The first thing that Mozzo said when he met me was, Howsigoing, Finno? It was a good start.

When Mozzo moved into The Rise my mam said that I should be friendly to him because he hadn't had all the luck that I had.

What luck? I asked her.

He has no feckin father! she answered.

I shrugged, and agreed that she was right. My father has a big thick brown mustache, laughs a lot, and is always called A Right Charmer by everyone who meets him. He makes money selling office equipment and he's genius at his job.

He could sell sand to the Arabs.

That's what everyone says about him. In fact, when the Shilawehs moved into the Villas, Maura Connell winked at him and told him that this was his chance to sell sand to the Arabs. He winked back at her, told her not to be so stupid, that they weren't Arabs, they were coloreds.

I have five sisters, all older than me. And no brothers. My father jokes that he wouldn't stop trying till he got a boy. And usually, depending on who's around, he'll then say, But I settled for Jim instead!

Then everyone laughs and says to my face that my dad's a wild card. Mam then grabs me, rubs my hair and says, Leave the poor creature alone!

Mozzo's still reeling from the excitement of the Helen Macdowell story. He's still rocking back'n'forth, but now he's nodding his head too. He looks up at my boom box, tells me that Survivor's fuckin shite and that I should listen to some real fuckin music! He points to his T-shirt when he says this. Then he continues nodding, like he's thinking about something interesting inside. Eventually, he spits it out. Let's do it, Finno, he says. Let's do a fuckin Helen Macker on it!

I'm confused.

I've seen it in a flick once, he says. We'll get a big fuckin melon, stick it on a fuckin pole and take fuckin potshots at it with the fuckin hockey gear. First shot to hit, splat goes the melon! Be fuckin mad!

Mozzo says fuckin the whole time, more than any friend I've ever had. More than Gary anyway.

Until Mozzo arrived on The Rise, Gary Connell was my number one buddy. His dad's a pilot for Aer Lingus and is always bringing him the latest electronic gadgets from America. Gary is an only child and a Protestant to boot, and, so my mam says, his parents have loads of money to spend on him because they don't have to be dividing it up among six hungry children. Nearly every day that Gary walks down The Rise he has a new gadget. Pocket space invaders cum leather wallet. Baseball-cap radio with joke drinking straw. Joke windscreen-wiper sunglasses. Sweat-band with built-in digital watch. Transistor-radio tankard.

Excerpted from The Fields by Kevin Maher. Copyright © 2014 Kevin Maher. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
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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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Kevin Maher, Author of The Fields

What inspired you to write this book, and is it autobiographical?

The book is violently autobiographical, but only in the most emotional of ways. And if that sounds slightly paradoxical, well, it is. What I mean is that the book, which is set in the mid-1980s in Dublin (and later in London), and concerns the misadventures of a teenage boy called Jim Finnegan, has been ripped from my emotional reality, without being an actual description of the life that I have lived - as someone who came of age in Dublin in the mid-1980s, and eventually moved to London. Jim Finnegan in the book experiences triumphs and tragedies that are unfamiliar to me as events, but in order to make them real on the page I had to have some sense of their emotional reality. So, in something of a slight of hand, I found myself translating my own life experience into Jim's, but bumping it up into a wilder, more dramatic milieu - most obvious case in point being that Jim has five older sisters and no brothers, whereas I grew up with three older sisters and no brothers. It's all in the exaggeration or, in the words of Spinal Tap, it's about turning everything up to eleven.

That being said, I had no interest at all in writing any sort of covert quasi-autobiography when I sat down to begin The Fields. Instead, it was an act of pure rebellion against what had been, up until then, my day job - a professional film critic. I actually started The Fields in late 2001 when, after working for four years as the film editor of a famous London-based style magazine called The Face, and after blasting my own cerebral cortex with over 2,500 movies (I counted!), I quit my job and, with wife and newborn son in tow, moved to a tiny fishing village in the north of Scotland, called Findhorn, where I set about beginning what was to be my magnum opus.

There were no rules back then, or no guiding principal other than to make myself laugh when I wrote, and to have the complete freedom to say whatever I wanted to say, after four long years of writing anodyne profiles based on 40 minute meetings with Hollywood stars in London hotel rooms. So the book that began to emerge in 2001 was just, in the nicest possible way, me verbally vomiting onto the page, and being as personal and expressive as I could, while hoping to make sense, and have fun, at the same time.

How did the book eventually take shape?

I wrote a first draft up in Scotland, which contained the first 60 or so pages of what has remained in The Fields today, and then another 240 pages of pure pseudo-pretentious drivel. Back then I was still too much of a critic, and kept falling into the trap of writing like a critic, and even critiquing as I was writing. Thus the story, after 60 pages, became about the impossibility of story, about the process of story, and the death of narrative. Classic sophomoric twaddle. It was as if I was embarrassed about simply telling a story. As if that was beneath me. Shameful, I know. Nonetheless, the first draft was pretentious enough to get me an agent, and a few meetings with publishers who all, unanimously, said the same thing: "We love the first 60 pages, but the rest is pretentious trash!" Naturally, time ticks on, and so do mortgages, so I put the book away, and started working again as a film journalist, this time for The London Times. My wife and I had two more children through the decade (the Noughties), and by 2010 I felt mature enough and, let's be honest, frustrated enough with film journalism (the Hollywood star interviews were now down to 20 minutes in London hotel rooms), to turn my attentions towards finishing The Fields.

By then - and I always kind of cringe when I read this from other authors, but alas, I think it's true - I had spent years telling my own children simple bed time stories, and I think I had learned to respect (even revere) the beautiful simplicity of 'Once Upon a Time'. So when I went back to The Fields I did so with only the 'Once Upon a Time'-ness of the storytelling drive in my heart, and the need to tell the tale of Jim Finnegan completely, from A to Z.

I finished it very quickly, in less than 6 months, and got a publishing deal in two weeks after that.

The book has moments of extreme darkness, in terms of subject matter, but the tone, even then, is always comical. Was this a difficult balance to achieve?

Not really. The most natural and organic thing for me in the book is the narrative voice of Jim Finnegan. It's a 14-year-old voice, and it is often unintentionally comical. He has a naivety and openness about the world, or at least about Ireland in the mid-1980s, and about the crumbling influence of the Church upon that place, that is often humorous in delivery solely because the world around him is essentially absurd. And here, when I address the subject, dark indeed, of clerical abuse in the book, it is completely absurd. And I don't mean this in a glib way. People who lived through the 1980s in Ireland were living through, according to most subsequent research (including famous reports such as the Ferns Report of 2005, or the McCullough Report from the same year) an epidemic of child abuse. A famous satirical magazine from the time, called Magill, published a notorious 1986 issue which, based on its own research, claimed that one in every four girls in Ireland had been sexually abused before the age of 18. As such, what Jim sees around him is an absurd place, where adults in authority prey on young children, which is the complete opposite of what his innocent and open worldview expects. So it's darkly humorous yet heartbreaking at the same time.

The book also touches on the subject of New Age Spiritualism, but is often ambiguous about its practices and practitioners. Why?

Because, simple answer, I have ambiguous feelings about New Age Spiritualism and its practitioners. I've spend a lot of time in the company of New Agers, specifically when I lived in Scotland, and my instinct is to decry them all as a bunch of charlatans, tricksters, and self-deluded nut jobs. And yet, and yet, I've had one, or two, very unusual experiences (not quite interesting enough to go into here) with some high quality spiritualists, so I can't totally trash the entire phenomenology. It could very well be a manifestation of that religion-shaped hole that lives inside of every agnostic adult who was raised Catholic (like I was), or it could just be a slightly fanciful 'more things in heaven and earth' worldview. Either way, I can't quite give the hippies the kind of kicking that some readers have felt they deserved.

Who have you discovered lately?

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which, I know, I've come to very lately, but it still blew my mind. Just his fantastic grasp of detail in every different time section was breathtaking. I was particularly impressed by his apparently limitless knowledge of classical music for the 1930s Belgian section. I then had the good fortune to interview Mitchell for The London Times, during which he revealed, perhaps too modestly, that he had gleaned all those facts from the sleeve notes in his CD collection. Which, I have to be honest, left me feeling just a tad less inadequate.

I also loved Roddy Doyle's new book The Guts, which is a return to the terrain he established in The Commitments, at the beginning of his literary career. I know Doyle isn't exactly someone waiting to be discovered, but it was a pleasure for me to re-embrace that subject matter (the fictional Barrytown of North County Dublin) after nearly 27 years.

However, the author I'm most excited by is Rachel Kushner. Her second novel, The Flamethrowers, has been both a joy to read and a nightmare. A joy, because it's simply the most elegant and confident and illuminating book I've read in years. And a nightmare because it's only her second novel, and as someone who's in the midst of writing his own second novel it can really take the wind out of your sails. But in a good way.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 20, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    A very well written coming of age story. The writing is excellen

    A very well written coming of age story. The writing is excellent and the story really grabs you.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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