Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Talk of the Town - Ardal O'Hanlon

I know I’m probably a little late to the party on this one (The Talk of the Town was published in 1998), so please forgive the tardiness of this review.

I have, in fact, been trying to track this book down for quite some time. Exhaustive searches of London’s book stores and Amazon had proved fruitless, and I was beginning to despair of ever getting my hands on it, when it suddenly appeared before my eyes, like a divine apparition, on a second-hand book table in the market under Waterloo Bridge … and at the bargain-basement price of £3 – result!

So, was this debut offering by Irish comedian, Ardal O’Hanlon, worth the wait (and the endless trudging around innumerable Waterstones stores)? The short answer is yes, but with one important qualification … if you are expecting this book to be reminiscent of O’Hanlon’s most famous character, the thick-as-two-bricks Fr Dougal McGuire of Father Ted fame, you will be sorely disappointed.

Ardal O'Hanlon
Because The Talk of the Town is as far removed from the side-splitting comedy of Father Ted as it can possibly get.  It is the story of Patrick, a young man from a small town in Ireland, who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his idolised father and the onset of adulthood. Told from the point of view of the rather unlikeable protagonist, and occasionally interspersed with diary entries from Francesca, his indifferent but well-meaning girlfriend, The Talk of the Town chronicles Patrick’s startling descent from promising young teenager into a world of disillusionment and inertia. As all his friends appear to be emerging from their adolescent years relatively unscathed, Patrick is stuck in a quagmire of self-doubt and resentment. Unwilling or unable to take control of his life, Patrick succumbs to alcohol and violence as a way of venting his deep-seated frustrations. As this dark and disturbing tale hurtles inexorably to his horrifying climax, the reader is left contemplating the fine line between sanity and madness … and how easily a life be veered off-course.

The novel, however, is not without its faults. The plot is rather thin in places and, if it wasn’t for Francesca’s occasional diary entries to alleviate the intensity, the narrative would be a difficult and unrelentingly miserable read. The book is also jam-packed with colloquialisms - which is fine if you are in fact Irish like me, but could be quite baffling for the non-native reader!

In short, Roddy Doyle it ain’t, but well worth a read nonetheless.


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