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.

Home Uncategorized Innocent Abroad

Innocent Abroad

Siobhán Parkinson
Ithaca, by Alan McMonagle, Picador, 320 pp, ISBN: 978-1509829842 I loved this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If comparisons with Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy (since this story is also unreliably narrated by a protagonist who could be described as a juvenile delinquent) and Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart (because of thematic similarities) are inevitable, Alan McMonagle has nothing to fear. Ithaca is certainly equal to such comparisons. It is assured and poised, hilarious and poignant, a tour de force. The almost-twelve-year-old protagonist/narrator’s name is Jason, and indeed his identity with Jason of the Argo, the one-sandalled one, seems to be established when our Jason’s “tackie” (apparently a runner or sneaker) falls off his foot and into a swamp. The title of the novel, however, and continual references to Ithaca in the text very obviously point to a different Greek voyage. One could have a lot of fun of a wet Tuesday afternoon teasing out the Odyssean and other Greek references – anyone for Telemachus? – but the connections are lightly indicated and one can enjoy this novel without bothering about the epic allusions. We are in small-town Ireland, and the money that had been sloshing about the country has suddenly disappeared. The town is half-derelict, the people as depressed as the economy. Jason lives with his wildly dysfunctional, alcoholic mother. He is curious to the point of obsession about the identity of his father, who has never figured in his life. He proposes various men with whom his mother is or has been involved as his missing parent, but his mother remains tight-lipped – or rather she ridicules his suggestions. The truth, of course, as the reader quickly realises, is that she has no idea who his father was. But Jason remains dogged in his determination to convince himself that he has pinned his da down. His fantasies in this respect diverge further and further from plausibility, and Jason’s quest becomes more heart-breaking as it becomes more ludicrous. In Jason, McMonagle has created a character who is entirely lovable from unpromising material – an occasionally foul-mouthed and far from fragrant young fantasist in a hoodie from a filthy home on the wrong side of the tracks whose idea of an afternoon’s entertainment is to paint outrageous and incriminating slogans all over the swanky external walls of the mansion of an absconded developer on “Rich Hill”. Even snaffling a large quantity of prescription drugs from…

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