Lead Review (a pitch-perfect novel)
- Book: Montpelier Parade
- Location: Dublin
- Author: Karl Geary
Geary, aged only 16, left his native Ireland in the late 1980s for the bright lights, sophistication and opportunity that New York offered. He then went on to become a successful actor and screenwriter but, when it came to penning his first novel, it was to Ireland that he looked for inspiration. Geary gets 1980s Dublin (well, 1980s anywhere in Ireland really) spot on. The incessant rain, the lack of adequate warmth or comfort, the unshifting class divide and the crushing lack of opportunity or hope are unflinchingly laid out for the reader.
Sonny Knolls, the hero, is a 16-year-old schoolboy, who has ambitions to get out of Ireland and to achieve something more than his predicted future as a butcher’s apprentice. Whilst helping his father in the garden of a big house in Montpelier Parade, he meets the owner, Vera, and is immediately smitten. Sonny is a troubled youth, the youngest son of a working-class family in south Co. Dublin, who has gained a place in grammar school but is struggling to cope there, feeling all too keenly the gulf between the predominantly middle-class boys and himself. Sonny is a romantic at heart, wanting to save his mother from her life of drudgery and hopelessness, but realising that it is too late so he spends what money he gets on alcohol and at times punches walls to silence the howling misery inside him. Sharon, his only friend, is a sad, bleached-blonde school dropout, who has learned to use her body to buy affection. Sonny would like to save her too, and rejects her offer of sex, “not wanting to be one of those boys who made her cry” but is unable to prevent her from making a final disastrous choice. Only Vera, with her secrets and unhappiness seems to offer Sonny a final chance to be a saviour. The affair that develops between them is very sensitively handled by Geary and is utterly convincing.
The novel is written in second person, giving us the impression of Sonny talking to himself throughout – a very effective way of conveying Sonny’s loneliness and isolation from everyone around him. Stylistically, the novel is a masterpiece. Geary’s experience as a screenwriter tells – the novel is awash with cinematic detail and vivid incident. In the first chapter, Sonny witnesses a drunk man, Mr Cosgrove, being knocked down outside the butcher’s shop where he is working. Geary focuses our attention on the thin, sealed plastic bag of livers that the butcher plonks down on the counter for Cosgrove and then later, after the accident, draws our attention to the plastic bag that “had been flung a few feet away from him; it was burst, empty.” This visual metaphor powerfully conveys the damage to the man’s body without recourse to more direct description.
There’s not a word wasted in this pared down, perfectly-paced little novel and, considering that this is Geary’s debut novel, there’s bound to be more on the way. Oh goody, goody.