Cartoon City, by Ferdia Mac Anna, 451 Editions, 276 pp, €10.95, ISBN 978-19999075750
A new edition of Ferdia Mac Anna’s comic noir caper/thriller has been published by 451 Editions twenty years after Headline Books published it at the turn of this century. From the beginning, readers must suspend their disbelief, as the characters that rollick through the pages are quirky, fantastical, and at times, a bit superhuman, communicating mainly in quips.
The protagonist, Myles Sheridan (nicknamed “Goalpost” since schooldays), is a thirty-year-old tall guy (six foot six inches and bizarrely, still prone to growth spurts). An early lesson he learned was “to steer clear of fights with guys small enough to loaf you in the balls”. Fed up and jaded with his life as a lowly hack for Dublin’s Evening News, he sees reconnection with schoolfriend wide boy Pat as an opportunity to gain some story fodder he can use for the elusive feature gig he’s desperate to get. Very quickly, we’re on the Dublin underworld rollercoaster with Pat and his sidekick Dez, a seventeen-year-old “with a face like a demented leprechaun”. A gig stealing contraband fags fails spectacularly, but a dogfight (culminating in a brawny black man in a cape strangling a pitbull) earns him prime feature space the next day from the editor.
Meanwhile, a romantic subplot begins to bubble with sexy but mad redhead Mia, whom Myles meets after knocking her down during the getaway from the failed cig gig. The fact that he lives in his mum, Stella’s, house with his long-time girlfriend, Lucy, and five-year old daughter, Justine, doesn’t seem to pose an impediment to our hero’s philandering. He tracks Mia down and woos her by posing as a gangster, as well as giving her a ride back to her flat in Mountjoy square on Sheba, the nag owned by his jarvey uncle, Johnny Bones.
Very quickly hapless Myles’s gangster persona, along with his lust for Mia (who is clearly using him) leads to him agreeing to murder Mia’s father, “Psychodad”. The plot screams into overdrive and is at times hard to follow as it dizzyingly twists and turns, with scenes of slapstick capers around greater Dublin – Myles manages to find himself running naked along the Howth cliff walk at one point and borrowing a monk’s habit from a silent order of nuns; Mia holds an exhibition of her penis art called “Origins”; a gang of vengeful “scumbags” with slashing swords decimate Stella’s birthday party (fifty again).
Periodically Myles’s deceased dad, Big Paddy, appears to him, most often with words of wisdom like “It’s far from cappuccinos you were reared”, but this does not elicit any pathos from the reader; indeed no character in the book is strong enough to seem real. As the messy, violent denouement unfolds, we observe it dispassionately, with no shock or pity. People are shot, blade-wielding scumbags stab randomly, blood is everywhere. Perhaps this is deliberate, but it did leave me with a vague sense of dissatisfaction as I finished the story unable to root for a single character in its plot. As Myles observes himself towards the end, “These people lived in a fantasy world … If they killed him, they would be bumping off ‘Goalpost’ instead of Myles Sheridan. Like rubbing out a cartoon instead of a real person.”
Susan McKeever is an editor, writer and ghostwriter for several Irish and international publishers and authors. She works from her home in Dublin’s Portobello.