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By Sean Moncrieff

TV. personality (does that mean he doesn’t have a personality when he’s not on TV.?) Sean Moncrieff’s debut novel is a fast-paced, middle-brow thriller, which sets up a tenuous contrast with James Joyce’s Ulysses through having all the action take place on one day, and having some of the characters bear similar-sounding names to those in the 1922 epic. Guess what day that is? That’s right, it’s June 16th, and all the blazers and boaters are on parade for Bloomsday.

The central character is Simon Dillon, a thirty-five year old coke-addled documentary researcher, who has done a bit of this and a bit of that, including play bass in an aspiring rock group (who were named Moon Palace – is that a reference to Paul Auster’s novel of the same name, trivia fans?), and failed at everything. A judge’s son, he has squandered a life of relative privilege and opportunity. We join him as he wakes up on the floor in his friend Bongo’s apartment, and a police (or are they?) raid ensues. He is rescued by French-speaking Odette, who has spent the night on the sofa, and who Simon doesn’t remember meeting. She is his companion, guardian and protector throughout the day.

The plot is frankly bizarre, with the Russian mafia running around outdoing the Dublin criminal underworld in acts of random and extreme violence, and the bodies pile up and the (non-existent) Millennium Spire gets blown up. The climactic scene in the fictitious Sidebar (is that Lillie’s, by any chance?) is ridiculously unbelievable, but then there are those who will make the same complaint about the whole extravaganza.

Given that Moncrieff fronts RTE’s fairly abysmal quiz show ‘Don’t Feed The Gondolas’, I was predisposed to not taking this book very seriously. However, I was pleasantly surprised, as it is an entertaining, if blatantly far-fetched, sociological snapshot, and an easy read. The prose is also serviceable, and there are some nice observations about how one traumatic incident or confrontation can change the direction of a whole life, as happened Simon’s jock father, when an innocent man whose sons the judge had put into care turns up on his driveway brandishing a sawn-off shotgun in his face:

I don’t know when the actual moment was: when the Lash turned up

with the gun, or perhaps at the press conference afterwards, when the

journalists kept ramming it home to him: But sir, you could have been

killed; you were within inches of your own death. Somewhere in there,

there was a moment when a series of synapses fired in my father’s brain

and suddenly his indestructible existence melted before him. For the

first time in his life, he became afraid.

The blurb likens the book to an Irish Tarantino, which may not be the highest praise imaginable, since Mira Sorvino’s ex-boyfriend is merely a watered-down, by now mainstream Hollywood version of a true man of genius, David Lynch, parts of whose sensibility he has plundered shamelessly. As David Foster-Wallace has it, ‘Reservoir Dogs, for example…is Lynch made commercial, i.e. faster, linearer, and with what was idiosyncratically surreal now made fashionably (i.e. "hiply") surreal.’ Like Moncrieff and Joyce, perhaps?

In J. G. Ballard’s 1991 Independent on Sunday review of Ted Morgan’s Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs (available in the selection of his journalism A User’s Guide to the Millennium), he wrote: ‘At a time when the bourgeois novel has triumphed, and career novelists jet around the world on Arts Council tours and pontificate like game-show celebrities at literary festivals, it is heartening to know that Burroughs at least is still working away quietly in Lawrence, Kansas, creating what I feel is the most original and important body of fiction to appear since the Second World War.’

Still, if not quite earth-shattering, notwithstanding its contemporary take on raw sex and ultra violence, Dublin is not a bad start, all in all. For a game-show host.

First published in Books Ireland


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