The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

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.

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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.

In the Media: March 2016, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist was announced this fortnight. While former winner, Lionel Shriver declared ‘Women’s literary prizes are ‘problematic’‘.

And the Wellcome Book Prize announced their shortlist with four (out of six) female writers on it, as did the YA Book Prize with eight women writers on its ten book shortlist.

Elena Ferrante is hot news in the literary world once again after Corriere della Sera published an article in which Marco Santagata claimed to know her identity. Rachel Donadio wrote, ‘Who Is Elena Ferrante? An Educated Guess Causes a Stir‘ in The New York Times; Jonathan Sturgeon said, ‘We Already Know the Identity of Elena Ferrante‘ on Flavorwire; Lincoln Michel asked, ‘Why Do We Care Who the “Real” Elena Ferrante Is?‘ on Electric Literature; Stassa Edwards asked, ‘What’s Really Behind Our Obsession Over Unmasking Elena Ferrante?‘ on Jezebel; John Dugdale wrote, ‘Will Elena Ferrante outlast Louisa May Alcott’s secret alter ego?‘ in The Guardian, and Jessica Roy declared, ‘Leave Elena Ferrante Alone‘ in The Cut.

Anita Brookner died. Rebecca Hawkes wrote her obituary while Linda Grant wrote, ‘Why Anita Brookner’s funny, sharp novels got under your skin‘ both in The Telegraph.

The best of the rest:

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On or about books/writers/language:

Sara Novic

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media, February 2016, part two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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On Friday, the death of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird was announced. Obituaries followed from Ed Pilkington and Matthew Teague in The Guardian; Eric Hamburger also in The Guardian; Casey N. Cep in The New Yorker, and The Irish Times, and appraisals of her work from Michiko Kakutani, ‘In Harper Lee’s Novels, a Loss of Innocence as Children and Again as Adults‘ in the New York Times; Sarah Churchwell, ‘Harper Lee: author battled to reconcile racial justice with a racially unjust society‘ and Elaine Showalter, ‘Harper Lee: an American novelist deserving of serious attention‘ both in The Guardian; Michelle Dean, ‘Did Go Set a Watchman spoil Harper Lee’s literary legacy?‘ in The Guardian; Katy Waldman, ‘What Is Harper Lee’s Legacy After Go Set a Watchman?‘ on Slate, and Alex Clark, ‘Why Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird endures to tell its tale of radical change‘ in The Observer

You might have heard that a fortnight ago Beyoncé released a new song ‘Formation’ which she went on to perform at the SuperBowl. Lots of people had lots to say about it. LaSha wrote, ‘Kendrick Lamar won’t face backlash like Beyoncé: Socially conscious art, sexual expression and the policing of black women’s politics‘, Priscilla Ward wrote, ‘White Beyoncé haters don’t get it: “Formation” isn’t “race-baiting” — but it is unapologetically about race‘ both on Salon; Banseka Kayembe wrote, ‘Beyonce Gets Political: Here’s Why it Matters‘ on the Huffington Post; Shantrelle Lewis wrote, ‘“Formation” Exploits New Orleans’ Trauma‘ on Slate; Nikita Richardson did ‘A Deep Dive into the Important, Unapologetic Blackness of Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’‘ on Hello Giggles; Suzanne Moore said, ‘Black Pride at the Super Bowl? Beyoncé embodies a new political moment‘ in The Guardian; The Pool asked, ‘Four women on what Beyoncé’s Formation means to them‘, and Anna Leszkiewicz said, ‘Beyoncé and #BlackLivesMatter: why “Formation” is her most radical release to date‘ in the New Statesman.

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Last weekend was Valentine’s Day; there was plenty of writing around that too. Emma Dowling wrote, ‘Love’s Labour’s Cost: The Political Economy of Intimacy‘ on Verso Books; Eleanor Franzén wrote ‘V Daze‘ on Elle Thinks; Eileen Myles, ‘on the Excruciating Pain of Waiting for Love‘ and Heather Haverilesky, ‘What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage‘ on The Cut; Marie Phillips wrote, ‘What I learnt from a year of being in love‘ and Emer O’Toole shared, ‘The Rules, and how I fell in love‘ both on The Pool; Lauren Duca asked, ‘Is There Such a Thing As a Feminist Marriage Proposal?‘, Laura June revealed, ‘What I Thought Romance Meant, Age 12–Present‘ and Meaghan O’Connell told us, ‘Getting Married in One Week Was the Most Romantic Thing I Ever Did‘ all in The Cut; Emma Flowers wrote, ‘Finding, Nearly Losing and Finally Building Love Across Two Genders‘ on the Huffington Post; Heidi Julavits on ‘My High-School Boyfriend, the Con Artist‘ in The Cut; Tiffany Yannetta wrote, ‘Lights, Camera, Love‘ on the history of dating shows on Racked, and Alana Massey said, ‘Tinder Is the New Meet-Cute‘ in The Cut.

Congratulations to Ríona Judge McCormack who won the inaugural Galley Beggar Press short story competition with ‘Blackburn‘. And The Stella Prize announced its 12 book longlist for 2016.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists: