The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies

Title: The Glorious Heresies

Author: Lisa McInerney

Review by Joe Phelan

I always feel there’s something a bit special about picking up a debut novel. I like the idea that I’ve yet to form an opinion about the author’s ability, and that I could be on the verge of discovering a talent that will become a personal favourite for years to come.

And it’s people like Lisa McInerney, the latest young author to emerge from Ireland’s burgeoning writing scene, that justify my commitment to devouring the work of new authors. Some writers are able to weave a story, while others are adept at using flowery language or spinning metaphors; it is very rare, however, that someone pens a story which drags you into the tale, that makes you feel as though you are a spectre lingering within each scene.

I wouldn’t normally offer up any form of conclusion until the end of a review, but McInerney is someone that doesn’t really follow traditional writing rules, so nor will I. This is an author that is not only intelligent and socially on point, but she is someone that does not shy away from grim and messy. She isn’t here to pander to people; she is writing about issues of significance, and it is our job to ensure those messages are read, digested and comprehended.

McInerney is something quite special, and her work deserves your attention.

Dark, dreary and dismal

Let’s get this out there straight away; this is not a happy book. This is a story based most firmly in bitter reality, focusing on a series of unfortunates languishing at the very bottom of Santa’s nice list. These are people that have been hit hard by life; that have been knocked down so often that they have all but given up on the lofty ambition of getting up again.

Based in post-recession Cork, a picturesque Irish city with a violent past and a present that sees affluence and prosperity living side by side with substance abuse and mass unemployment, this is a story that has no time for success stories or gaiety.

Cork is a place build atop countless rivers, streams and gullies; they flow through the heart of the city, masked by concrete and tarmac. And, in perfect parallel to those concealed waterways, the city’s vice is hidden, tucked away behind a façade of natural beauty and scenic calm. Both are but inches away from plain sight, but only if you take the time to look.

Miscreants and scoundrels

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that this is a book containing very few ‘good’ characters, if any at all. There’s a sliding scale of depravity, more certainty, but rarely does anyone perform a deed that could be considered respectable or decent. Everyone is flawed to some extent, though some of the cast have more severe personality defects than others.

We are introduced to criminals, drug dealers, women with apparently paedophilic tendencies, and also defilers of religion, yet we are encouraged to look behind these nasty exteriors, to discover what made them wander the dark paths that every law-abiding citizen would avoid at all costs. And, while sympathy is not something each character deserves, their miserable circumstances and dire histories mean it is an emotion felt more than once.

There are no happy endings 

If there’s one message that McInerney persistently attempts to hammer home it’s that happy endings are something of a fallacy, especially if you do little to deserve one. Karma is a theme that resonates throughout the novel; if you perform immoral acts, then bad events will follow you around like an unwelcome shadow.

A heavy sense of melancholy hangs over the head of each character, and as the book progresses there is a sense that everyone is gradually sinking into a mire from which they will never be able to clamber out. It’s as if the perpetually grey clouds that linger above Cork are more a portent of impending tragedy than a reminder that rain is never too far away on Ireland’s south coast.

This is a book that digs deep into personal misfortune and isn’t shy about shining a light on events uncomfortable or heartrending. Topics covered include death, prostitution, murder and accusations of rape; for the fainthearted or squeamish this novel certainly is not, but for those looking for something refreshingly different, this is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.

Review by Joe Phelan

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