Maureen had just killed a man.
She didn’t mean to do it. She’d barely need to prove that, she thought; no one would look at a fifty-nine-year-old slip of a whip like her and see a killer[…]Her face had a habit of sliding into a scowl between intentional expressions, but looking like a string of piss wasn’t enough to have Gardaí probing your perversions. There’d have been no scandals in the Church at all, she thought, if the Gardaí had ever had minds honed so.
Although Maureen’s ‘shit at cleaning’, clearing up the dead body’s not going to be too difficult seen as her son, Jimmy Phelan, is Cork’s top gangster. Recently reunited, Maureen gave birth to James, as she’d named him, in England in the 1970s. There she’d relinquished her ‘terrible deed’ to his grandparents in Knock, until, as an adult, he tracked her down. Finding her living in poverty in a London tenement, he brought her home to Cork and installed her in an apartment by the river. An apartment housed in a building he’d previously run as a brothel.
Needing to keep the death quiet, Jimmy enlists alcoholic Tony Cusack to dispose of the body. Unfortunately, Tony knows the identity of the dead man and lets his name slip in front of Maureen.
Georgie, girlfriend of Robbie O’Donovan – for that’s the name of the dead man, begins to worry on the third day of his absence.
So it wasn’t that she feared that Robbie might be dead, because his death was the first logical conclusion. He wouldn’t have run away because he had no one left to run to; they were, in all sorts of ways, the last two people on earth.
She looked for his corpse with determined detachment. If she found him bloodied or bloated that’d be something to deal with, but right now all she needed to do was her duty. She hunted for him. Alleyways, doorways, up the ways, down the ways. Nothing. It was like he’d been plucked out of existence, the way you’d flick a crumb off your shirt.
And then there’s Georgie’s confidant and Tony’s next-door-neighbour, Tara Duane.
Some of the girls whispered that she was the city’s most devious madam, taking pay from all manner of third parties as she spun the streets. Georgie wasn’t sure Tara was practical enough to be a madam. Instead she wondered if she wasn’t just a creep, feigning aid like she feigned smiles.
Tara’s certainly keen to know everyone’s business, particularly that of Tony Cusack.
Although all of these characters play a part in the tangled web that makes up the plot of The Glorious Heresies, the story really belongs to Cusack’s eldest son, Ryan.
As the novel begins, Ryan enters the family home with his new girlfriend, Karine D’Arcy.
He left the boy outside its own front door. Farewell to it, and good luck to it. He wasn’t going to feed it anymore; from here on in it would be squared shoulders and jaws, and strong arms and best feet forward. He left the boy a pile of mangled, skinny limbs and stepped through the door a newborn man…
Fifteen-year-old Ryan loses his virginity, starts his first long term relationship and begins to step out from the shadow of his alcoholic, violent, widowed father. The Glorious Heresies is Ryan’s coming-of-age story, taking place over five years following Robbie O’Donovan’s death as the consequences of Maureen’s actions unravel for the whole cast of characters.
Peopled by gangsters, alcoholics, pimps, dealers and sex workers, it would’ve been easy for McInerney to cast judgement upon her characters but part of the strength of the novel lies in her avoidance of this. The characters are fully rounded, demonstrating moments of understanding, empathy and kindness as well as anger, violence and criminality. The narrative viewpoint moves between the characters allowing us glimpses of their motivation and the events which have moulded them.
The Bailey’s Prize longlist always produces a couple of gems I hadn’t read (and sometimes hadn’t heard of) prior to the list’s announcement; The Glorious Heresies is one of this year’s. The writing fizzes: We’re all gods when we fucking feel like it; ‘God is great that way. He has massive ears and a mouth sewn shut’; Funny how memories you’d swear burnt tattoos on you dissolved into nothing when you needed to examine them. The characters are interesting and their interweaved lives produce some interesting plot twists – Maureen, in particular, is brilliant; her feminist rants are a real highlight of the novel. But above all, The Glorious Heresies is a bloody entertaining read.
Thanks to John Murray Press for the review copy.