“It’s a belter of a book” – The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney

tbmlmCan we just pause a second before we get going, and have a quick gawk back at our review of McInerney’s debut, The Glorious Heresies? Fantastic, we said; scorching, we said; a future prize-winner, we said (we told you so, is we’ve been saying ever since); we called it nuanced, sharp, manic and iconoclastic, and we might as well copy and paste all that because we’re still saying it now that we’ve rattled through The Blood Miracles in two days – days during which both the kids and our sleep were (justly – sorry, kids) neglected in favour of the goings-on of young Ryan Cusack.

We pick up Ryan’s story a little before we left it off at the end of The Glorious Heresies: he’s just back from a stint in hospital, he’s working out a difficult and lucrative new deal between his boss, Dan Kane, and the Camorra over in his mother’s hometown of Naples (Ryan, remember, speaks both fluent Italian and Napulitano), and he’s been approached to DJ a new club (he’s a kick-ass piano-player), but Karine’s demanding he get out and clean up and he’s feeling strung-out and confused. He ends up on a parapet over the Lee, and is talked down by a woman whom readers of Heresies will recognize, though Ryan fails to recognize, as Maureen Phelan, mother of Jimmy Phelan, Dan Kane’s nemesis in Cork’s underworld. So far, so good. But things go sour with Karine and then Ryan meets another woman, an accountancy student called Natalie who’s excited, rather than frustrated, by his yoke-selling career. Rather than a new start, though, everything gets worse: the big deal goes sour, Dan’s on the rampage, the Phelan connection rears its head, and it’s not all as cosy with Natalie as Ryan had hoped. Any more details and we’d jeopardize too much of the finely balanced plot, but suffice it to say, it’s a hell of a ride.

So forget all that talk about the difficult second novel: this is the exemplary second novel. McInerney has forgone the expansive, multi-vocal, birds-eye view she brought to the massive cast of its predecessor: this time she’s zoomed in on a single character and the action spans weeks rather than years, but she’s applied the same empathic acuity to this book as to the last, as well as the same Corkonian humour, the ear for dialogue, the eye to pacing. Ryan’s travails are brutally compelling, start to finish: it’s all just violent enough to keep us wincing without dulling the shock, while also heartbreakingly, domestically tragic. He might be a hard man, like, but he’s a young man, just twenty years old, and he’s as vulnerable and worried as the rest of us: McInerney keeps him teetering on the brink of adulthood, the tendrils of childhood just about anchoring him to home, to optimism, to the possibility of, well, possibility. Which is to say, he’s got all the hormonal idiocies of your average young fella, all the weary experience of the up-and-coming dealer, and all the sadness of a motherless young pup who can’t keep things on a steady keel with the girlfriend he loves. The intricacies of his relationship with Karine, their rows and reunions and bitter problems, are hauntingly real. McInerney isn’t in the business of whitewashing romance: these characters are all bitterness and ambition and rancor in amidst their love and lust. The same goes for Ryan’s complicated affection and hatred for his father, Tony, a violent, good-for-nothing alcoholic who gets his son in trouble as much as he does try to protect him, and, likewise, for Ryan’s entanglement with Natalie from the south-side – theirs is a world, like ours, in which there’s no easy answers or convenient scapegoats or cut-out characters there simply to plug a gap. It’s all about emotional depth and ethical conundrums. Would you do what Ryan does? Well?

Ah, we could go on: the language, the rhythms of it, the knotted brilliance of the plot, the landscape of Cork’s clubs and alleyways and lonely outskirts (read: burial grounds) – it’s a winner. While we’d recommend you read The Glorious Heresies first for maximum impact (and because it’s a belter of a book), you’d still get by fine with this one as a standalone; it’s a sequel, but a pretty loose one. And now we’re hoping there’ll be a third volume – Georgie’s story, maybe? (Get on it, Lisa!)

Any Cop?: Definite contender for our book of the year. Booker shortlist? We’re calling it now. We’ve got form with these things…

 

Valerie O’Riordan

 

 

 

 

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