I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Eating Crow

George O’Brien
Forsaken, by Gerard Lee, New Island Books, 165 pp, €13.99, ISBN 978-1848403611 When JJ, the narrator of Gerard Lee’s arresting first novel, is ten, his father disappears, turning up much later as a bag of bones lodged high in a pine tree, as forsaken as an unredeemed King Sweeney, as foreign a corpse as a Parsi’s. He’s no prize, this da, but from the time he vanishes things go from bad to worse for JJ, and his mind and outlook are additionally rubbed raw with thoughts of what might have been had the family stayed together, though it never stood a chance on account of the father’s drinking and the mother’s mindless repetition of the rosary. Something has to be done for the forsaken ones, and officials of church and state gather to show they know best, aided by JJ’s grasping Uncle Patsy, a throwback of a gombeen man. Taking his cue from westerns viewed with the da, JJ barricades himself and his mother against the posse of would-be do-gooders. But of course this is as insufficient a defence as the mammy’s prayers. JJ is taken in by Uncle Patsy, and his mother is taken to hospital for “a rest”. The downhill slide of JJ’s conditions and prospects accelerates. Uncle Patsy gives full rein to his capacity for sadistic exploitation. Mammy effectively disappears and has in any case gone off the rails. JJ is taken into care. Such freedom as he finds when he absconds is ultimately a greater trap than any institution, since he has can only return to the world of his earlier repression rather than turn it to productive advantage (the familiar option of such cases – heading to Dublin, or beyond – is no more than the flicker of an idea here). Back in the home country, JJ’s story proceeds by means of a sequence of increasingly grotesque episodes, some of them the youngster’s imaginings, others the result of actions he takes. Both have their origins in the “kill feeling” that seems to take the place of more familiar inklings of adolescence. But regardless of their origins, both types of episodes have equal impact. JJ’s vision of birds eviscerating his father’s tree-bound corpse has the same shock value as the fate he wishes on his professional care-givers, the car crash that he contrives and the graveside murder that he commits. Both events, and others of a…



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