Title: The Glorious Heresies
Author: Lisa McInerney
Year of Publication: 2015
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Rating: 5 out of 5
Shortlisted* for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016, Lisa McInerney’s debut novel follows an accidental murder and the chain reaction it starts in the lives of those who get mixed up in it.
The death of an intruder to Maureen Phelan’s home after a knock to the head with a Holy Stone is a mess that her son doesn’t need. Jimmy Phelan, boss to the city’s criminals, calls in his old friend Tony Cusack to help him get rid of the body and clean up his mother’s kitchen tiles. Tony can’t refuse. He’s got six kids to look after, he can’t have the wrath of an angry Jimmy Phelan being taken out on them.
So Tony helps Jimmy out, while also dealing with his own problem next door neighbour, Tara Duane, and her fixation on his eldest son Ryan. Ryan, of course, has his own obsessions, his girlfriend Karine D’Arcy, and his thriving career as a small-time drug dealer.
One of his clients, a prostitute named Georgie who is trying to turn her life around, just wants some answers about the disappearance of her boyfriend.
This is a darkly funny book that will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. Each character has their own personal struggle that weaves and intertwines with the rest in a way that should be confusing. But in the hands of McInerney it flows easily from character to character and obstacle to obstacle.
What really makes this book special is how realistic it is. The characters are deeply flawed people and it’s these flaws that make them believable. No one in the book is particularly likable as a person, with most of them being either drug dealers, alcoholics or prostitutes. But they all have a touch of morality to them, even if they don’t always do the right thing in the end. This is such a completely human quality that it’s difficult not to root for the characters when you see the struggles they’re facing.
It would be easy to fall into clichés in a story likes this and have a ‘bad guy with a heart of gold’ character, but McInerney stays well away from that. There’s no clear good guy or bad guy in the book. Everyone has qualities of both which makes them so realistic and much more enjoyable to read. (Although if I really had to name a villain, it would be Tara Duane. I haven’t seethed with so much hatred for a character since Professor Umbridge)
What McInerney manages to do is give you these flawed characters and make you root for them. You want them to succeed so badly. Ryan and Karine’s relationship is the best example of this. I have never shipped someone harder than Ryan and Karine. Every time Ryan does something stupid, every fiber of my being was willing him to stop, but knowing full well that it was going to happen anyway. You feel like such a part of these character’s lives, like you’re involved yourself. Everything they do to each other you feel as if it’s being done to you. You feel every stab of pain as if it was your relationship that was being hurt, because you want so desperately for them to succeed together. This kind of emotion is a testament to McInerney’s writing. That she is able to make the reader feel like such a part of the world she has created shows how skillful she is.
Maureen, probably my favourite character, is the only one who isn’t letting the world get her down anymore. She’s probably the funniest character and this is mainly due to the fact that she just doesn’t care. She feels like she’s had all of the punishment she can possibly get in life and that therefore she can do whatever she wants without having to worry about the consequences, like burning down a church. She feels like she’s been let down by religion and the church in her life. She was cast away because of it when she became pregnant out of wedlock, and lost her son when she was sent to London. There is a fantastic scene in a confessional booth where she calls out the priest on the Catholic Church’s hypocrisy that made me giggle.
The characters are constantly let down by institutions that are meant to protect them, like Maureen and the Church, and this is the reason that they act out the way they do. Ryan is let down by his teachers who punish him for playing up in class but fail to notice the bruises and black eyes from his father’s abuse. This is the main theme throughout the book. It’s a comment on post Celtic Tiger Ireland and those that it left behind.
There is an overall feeling of inevitability in The Glorious Heresies. The characters lives have an air of futility. No matter how much they try to make it better, they can’t escape the way it’s going to go. But this book has my favourite kind of ending; an optimistic one. Even with this futility, there is a tinge of hope in the last chapter. Just a tinge, mind you, but it’s there nonetheless.
* As of 9th June, it’s officially the Winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016. So well deserved 😀