Frankie Gaffney writes in a form of Hiberno-English – Dublin English – made famous by Roddy Doyle. While the excellent Mr Doyle’s writing can be sparse and dialogue-driven (particularly in his early Barrytown trilogy, including The Commitments), Mr Gaffney’s style is somewhat richer.
However, Gaffney’s dialogue, like Doyle’s, is striking in its comedy. A conversation with his hero Shane’s mother before Shane starts college is wonderful; she asks him if he needs his “copies” (copybooks) and other stationery. The scene is very vivid, both unique and typical in respects, evocative of many an ‘Irish mammy’.
A recent review of this book suggested there was too much sex in it. Out of the 300 odd pages, perhaps half a dozen are entirely devoted to shenanigans, and Gaffney won’t be winning any Bad Sex awards. (Although perhaps he wouldn’t mind a Bad Sex Award if it shifted a few units.)
Perhaps 50 pages (or maybe more) cover what one might call the gender dynamics of relationships. And his girlfriend Elizabeth is a peach of a young lady – again, it’s very easy to see her in one’s mind’s eye.
More scatologically speaking, there is some puking and mewling. But whaddaya expect? The hero is a Dublin yewt who spends his university education grant on the first batch of cocaine to buy himself a place on the Dublin drug-dealing market. So there is naturally some alcohol and drug-related vomit, and associated ablutions.
This is juxtaposed with some very stylish turns of phrase and good-time partying, to complement the suspense-filled preoccupations of a paranoid dealer. For instance, a clubbing night, with its dancefloor descriptions and a crepuscular walk home, is, in the main, sheer poetry.
It all speaks to this reader as lively and realistic, pure Dublin teen or early-20s stuff. Gaffney has unquestionably captured something that’s Irish in terms of the late teen, young-adult experience. There are elements that are also universal. It’s also certainly a novel worth reading more than once – beautifully easy to get through, it hides some wonderful touches. For instance, Shane’s surname, Laochra, is the Irish word for hero. One of James Joyce’s mouthpieces, Stephen Dedalus, was called Stephen Hero in early drafts of Joyce’s work.
As if emphasising Shane’s position on the criminal underworld’s ladder, he is at one point mistakenly referred to as “Shane Lackey”. There are numerous such gems throughout.
And then there’s the drugs, which for this reader, puts it into the realm of “learning new sh1t”. Shane discovers about aspects of the drugs trade while we do, a great means of presenting the reader with the intricacies of his increasingly complicated life, as well as the goings-on of underworld Ireland.
It reads like a character driven, slice-of-life work, but consistently interwoven are plot-based elements that lead the reader to the novel’s conclusion.
Dublin Seven’s a great read. Frankie Gaffney is one to watch.
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