Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

"The Good Son" by Paul McVeigh (Salt, 2015)

  • I think we're actually twins born years apart in some CIA super-genetic-test-tube experiment (p.2)
  • somewhere there's a place called Food Mountain made from tins of creamed rice and corned beef. I think it's in Switzerland (p.3)
  • Ma's us trained like those kids in The Sound of Music, but she doesn't need a whistle with a voice like hers. And I don't mean she sounds like Julie Andrews (p.15)
  • I have absolutely no idea what that actually means, but it will translate into pain inflicted on me (p.16)
  • Our Paddy says he's gay (p.19)
  • In the future, everyone will be telepathic and the IRA posters will say Loose Thoughts Cost Lives. I'd better be careful cuz they may already be testing this kind of technology (p.26)
  • I don't understand her. Like Wheetabix, brown sauce, how TV beams across the sky, the Bermuda Triangle and the bizarrest of all, the off-side rule in football (p.27)
  • The man will say, 'I want you for the Olympic Team.' And I'll say, 'No problem, Mister, but I have to shoot for Ireland, not America.' And he'd say, 'Okay, we couldn't let a talent like yours go to waste and besides, we God damn love the Irish people.' (p.136)
  • Teresa sits on my knee, puttin' her arm round my neck, hangin' onto me like I'm Rod Hull and she's Emu. Only Emu's better lookin' and my hand's not going up her bum (p.190)

You may be able to guess the setting and era (Belfast in the early 80s, though "gay" is a little surprising). The age of the narrator is harder to correctly guess. Even given novelistic license, I have trouble believing a 10 year-old is writing, clever though he may be. On p.123 he uses "genuflect".

The action is set in the summer holiday before Mickey goes to the big school. He's a Catholic trying to befriend the people that will protect him. He doesn't know whether to impress the lads, his mother or intellectuals. He's trying to work out what males do and why - "You have to lumber a girl even if she's ugly, cuz if you don't you're a big poof. But if I said that I lumbered Teresa McAllister everyone would sleg me cuz she's an ugly stinker" (p.140). He's accused of being different. He's unsure of his sexual identity.

I like chapter 11 but it contains some unexpected matter. On p.115 he's not shocked by the sight of his own blood. On p.116 the idea of telepathy is over-indulged.

On p.134 he gets the idea of catching a bee in a jam jar and putting it by his dog's grave so that he "can watch it fly round and round. Like him havin' his own goldfish", which is rather advanced.

I rather expected the older sister to side with the British because that's what tends to happen in these stories with hapless fathers and mothers holding the family together. I got that wrong, but in the end I wasn't as charmed by the book as other readers have been - I was happy enough with the plot, but there were too many standard ingredients, and too much character progression squeezed into a short time-span.

"If you're Ma heard you sayin' that" (p.57) looks like a typo.

Other reviews

  • Victoria Segal
  • Sam Jordison (Mickey Donnelly is the real reason The Good Son is worth reading. He is interesting, endearing, charmingly daft ... Sometimes the action gets a little confusing. Sometimes too, the insistent period details and listing of types of sweets feel sickly. Sometimes it doesn’t feel quite as impressive as Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. But on the whole The Good Son works.)
  • Goodreads
  • Sarah Gilmartin (Irish Times) (a spirited debut novel that at times, so loaded with action, veers off course and confuses, but ultimately delivers a real sense of a broken family living in a broken society.)
  • Culture Northern Ireland (It is our hero's relationship with his mother, however, that takes centre stage – an interesting point to note, given that McVeigh has since admitted that the mother figure barely appeared in earlier drafts of the novel.)
  • Phil Clement (Though it could be said that the novel is a little over-fond of reinterpreting the kitsch and neon of the early 80s, McVeigh does not shy away from the challenge of depicting the brutality and trauma that reigned during an age of political claustrophobia and sectarian unrest. And perhaps more could have been made of Mickey’s ‘episodes’, the lapses in concentration outside of which many of the dramatic turns of narrative occur)

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