At first Rockadoon Shore seems to be an encounter between stock characters from two eras of Irish writing. A group of students, facing the uncertainties of becoming adults (while all too aware of their equally uncertain future in a recession) arrive at an isolated house on the coast for a weekend of drunken adventures. They are watched by an elderly farmer, Malachy, who regrets the loneliness he chose when he opted to stay on the land instead of leaving with the only woman he ever loved (he could be one of William Trevor’s The Hill Bachelors).
As the novel, and weekend, develop Rory Gleeson draws the two generations into a shared, and sympathetic, portrayal of the struggle everyone has in understanding their own character. The twenty-year-olds and the man in his seventies share the same dilemma: “I’m just trying to think about what kind of person I am.” By the end of the weekend they discover the consequences of failing to come to any conclusions, “he was trapped in himself, in who and how and whatever way he was”. Perhaps the most striking character in the novel (apart from Malachy) is Steph who asks the question at the core of the novel: “what kind of a person needed others so badly they’d leave themselves open to that kind of hurt?”
Rockadoon Shore is driven by switching viewpoints and interior voices between the characters, their alternating experiences of the same events adding depth, and the multiplicity of voices widens the scope of the novel and Gleeson’s writing has a generosity of spirit that keeps you reading.
Rory Gleeson is coming along at a fortunate time in Irish writing; there is an energy and abundance about the younger Irish novelists that seems determined to reshape the themes and styles of previous generations. The comic impulse to turn away from the consequences of the financial crisis, an admission that the property boom and the consumption that came along with it had merely masked the traditional faultlines in Irish society. Rockadoon Shore is built across those faultlines: the urban/rural divide, the generational conflicts, but just as with recent novels, from Belinda McKeon and Jess King’s recent Himself (as well as Donal Ryan), Rory Gleeson has a confidence and energetic humour that is a good reason to read Rockadoon Shore.
Any Cop?: Entertaining, strikingly vivid in its understanding of what the twenty-first century, the age of social media and recession, feels like for the young.