Love is eternal, so they say. But in 2017, a vanilla ‘boy meets girl’ story is less art, and more an accountant’s wet dream: assemble some off-the-peg tropes, throw in a damsel and a boy to make good girls go moist, and finally put a writer in a chilled room for three months. Et voila – you have a bestseller. Kerching…
In an über-cynical era however, the artistic bar for boy-meets-girl has never been higher. The demand is now for some je ne sais quoi, a curve ball; something to wrongfoot the reader and make them pay attention. In Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary, the boy, Sonny, is best described as an urchin, whose most optimistic future is to secure a butcher’s apprenticeship. And the girl – woman – is the significantly older Vera, who is monied, sophisticated and well-bred. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that she has no partner, no significant other, but her backstory is deliciously withheld by the debut Irish novelist.
The key though to this story working – of a servile Irish wretch and a near landed-gentry English woman – is for their coming together to seem organic; not manufactured. It’s worth pointing out that the story is set in modern times, and accordingly, the reader will give little room to suspend disbelief. And so in this context, one must say that whilst his interest in her is obvious, there seems no surface reason why she would even tolerate his presence.
And yet, through their early encounters, whilst Vera is never more than mildly pleasant, that she does not blank him outright does raise an eyebrow. Indeed the pairing makes little sense, through the cold lens of logic, but in the first half Geary cleverly focuses on the boy. We dive deep into his small, imploding world – of a dysfunctional family, a school that wants to spit him out, and a sort-of girlfriend. And then, through his sparse, staccato meetings with Vera, space is created for his ‘private’ relationship – his one-sided obsession to grow. And this is so convincingly done, that despite it not strictly adding up, the sum somehow makes sense. Sonny and Vera are characters that form slowly, with Geary taking time to dress them in intricate, human detail. Alone, each is a discarded and discordant instrument, and yet together, they play the most beguiling melody, with each increment in tempo being timed to perfection:
‘Are your feet cold?’ you say.
‘No. What’s your story, Sonny?’
‘Have you a crush on me or something?’
You looked away and felt your face flush.
‘No need to be coquettish about it.’
‘I don’t know what that means.’
‘It means you need to read more. Not too old for you, no?’ She looked at you then and you were brave and held her stare.
‘No,’ you say.
‘I suppose if that’s what works for you.’
‘Why did you move to Ireland?’
‘I like the rain.’
‘You must fucking love it.’
‘Who cares, Sonny. I mean, really? It’s a story.’
‘I do,’ you say.
‘Well, good, you make one up and we’ll both believe it.’
Any Cop?: Montpelier Parade slowly builds into a most original, convincing and beautiful story. There is real depth here – genuine heart and soul. A boy-meets-girl to draw in even the most jaded.