Book five in my Bailey’s challenge and The Glorious Heresies was a welcome change of pace after Ruby (and bearing in mind I still have A Little Life to go). This is the debut novel for Lisa McInerney and what a novel it is. Reminiscent of Roddy Doyle, full of that very Irish dark but humorous language that draws you into the characters quickly. McInerney is known for her award-winning blog Arse End of Ireland (now no longer in existence, though do check out her website for her current, more authorly blog).
Maureen has just killed a man. Accidentally, but still there’s a dead body on her kitchen floor. Luckily for her, she has a son who is well connected to help out, local gangster Jimmy Phelan. The secret of his success seems to be mainly linked to delegation. When he enlists old mate Tony Cusack, an alcoholic widower with six kids, to get rid of the body a chain of events begins to unfold, as the dead man’s girlfriend starts to investigate his disappearance. It’s a book that looks about ‘big issues’ without being pious or boring or hectoring. Teenage pregnancy (and the consequence), juvenile detention, murder, manslaughter, drug addiction – all feature in heavy quantities with a tad of Catholicism chucked on top.
The great strength of this novel is the characters. I got each and every one as a real person, their quirks and flaws laid out expertly. There were no clichéd bad guys here. You get how tough life is for Tony, dealing with his addiction and trying to bring up six kids on zero money, but can still feel appalled at the physical abuse he unloads on eldest son Ryan. I loved the relationship between Ryan and Karine, that first flush of teenage love that grows over time, though I found their arguing towards the end of the book getting a bit tiresome. I suppose that makes it more realistic but I did start to wonder why they were still so desperate to stay together.
Most of the characters have pretty grim lives – prostitutes, drug dealers, petty criminals or general deadbeats all. It always surprises me when an author can make me like people who do a lot of quite bad things, and McInerney managed this brilliantly. She makes grey of those areas that a lot of us assume should be black and white. She can make the reader feel sympathy for a drug addict mother losing custody of her daughter, though in real life most of us would agree that it was best for the child.
I loved this book. My only criticism would be towards the end when everything got wrapped up a little too quickly, but that is probably a personal preference. I bought into all the main characters, and they were entwined enough that I didn’t lose track of what was going on with any of them. The language is stunning – rhythmical and not over-wrought. And it’s honest. These are the people, these are their flaws and deal with it. There’s very little sugar coating though, as before, a bit safe towards the end, though there was one particular character who I was very pleased to see get their come-uppance (hopefully that’s not too spoiler-like!).
I genuinely don’t know how the Baileys panel are going to choose a winner. With one book to go I have two equal favourites and I’ll be bold and divulge that this is one of them. Only a week left until we find out!