The current vogue enjoyed by writers like Patrick McCabe and Roddy Doyle has inserted Ireland's once-unfamiliar dialect and vocabulary into the collective consciousness, making a first novel by a new Irish voice cause for excitement. In this novel, two stories unfold in alternating chapters until it is clear that, by the end, they will converge. One is the story of a teenaged girl in Northern Ireland making her hazardous way through the usual adolescent minefields with the added burdens of a physical handicap and a missing father. The other is a suspense-packed thriller that begins with a violent escape from a New York mental hospital. As the bodies pile up, it becomes evident that the escapee, a former Protestant paramilitary extremist, will stop at nothing in his determination to return to Ireland to see his family again. This stunning debut should propel McKinty into the front ranks of contemporary Irish authors and is highly recommended.-Barbara Love, Kingston P.L., Ontario
If James Joyce had got his start as a Belfast Protestant with more of an interest in politics and less of a sense of humorbut with all of his scatological obsessions intacthe might have given us something close to McKinty's grim debut novel.
The gritty realism that seems to be the fashion in Britain and Ireland these days has cast a long shadow over the younger generation of writers, many of whom apparently feel compelled to mimic the obsessions of Irvine Welsh and James Kelman, just as young Americans have aped the simplicities of Hemingway for the last 50 years. McKinty's version of the new realism involves a walking tour of the uglier stretches of Belfast and New York, narrated from the points of view of a hunchbacked teenager and a terrorist who is very likely her father. The young girl, who lives in a Protestant neighborhood of Belfast, attempts to carry on a normal high school routine of sports, classes, and amateur theatrical productions despite the obsessive interest of a perverted biology teacher who persuades her to photograph and describe her bowel movements for him. Her father, meanwhile, a paramilitary hit man who has fled the country to avoid arrest, finds himself stuck in a Manhattan mental institution. Whether this is a mistake, a ruse to avoid deportation, or simply his natural habitat is not made much clearer than the rest of the story, which has little semblance of plot and proceeds along an uneven line from murkiness to utter incomprehensibility. To some extent, the lack of a clear storyline is part of the story in its own right, seemingly meant to express the aimlessness and deracination of the Protestant Loyalists of Ulster: "Orphans of history with only their mad religion to give them any identity at all." But it also has the effect of keeping readers outside that hermetic world rather than bringing them into it.
Rambling, incoherent, and gratuitously squalid.