Patrick McCabe: The Holy City

Patrick McCabe’s books come in bunches. First, the ones nobody has read, including Music on Clinton Street and Carn. Then a trio of successful novels, shortlisted and garlanded: The Butcher Boy, The Dead School and Breakfast on Pluto. Something went wrong then, with the next three books (Mondo Desperado, Emerald Germs of Ireland and Call Me the Breeze) receiving what are politely termed mixed reviews. Worse still: of the last, McCabe complains: “Nobody bloody read it.” This downturn paid dividends, as he was then fired to write Winterwood (2006), a book matched in brilliance in McCabe’s oeuvre only by The Dead School, and which attained the highest accolade achieved by all the best books these days, of failing to get longlisted for the Booker Prize.

If Winterwood – silent and silvery and coldly threatening – was a departure, then McCabe’s new novel The Holy City must be a reparture. It feels as though he’s going through his hoops with this one, with all the usual elements present from what John Banville called McCabe’s “antic black comedy”, from small-town Ireland to popular culture to an idiosyncratic narrative voice thinly veiling unspeakable horrors. Fortunately, it’s a shtick that I have a high tolerance for; and this time we are in the company of “Chris J. McCool – at your service, just call me Pops … refined boulevardier of some distinction”, in his 67th year, bestriding the town of Cullymore in a cloud of Old Spice and clad in “the smartest of neat blue blazers with brightly polished brass buttons, complete with white loafers and razor-creased grey slacks, a Peter Stuyvesant King Size cigarette (the international passport to smoking pleasure!) louchely dawdling between my lips.”

Like most of McCabe’s narrators, McCool is a witty and charming storyteller, and barking mad. Also as usual, the charm (and the madness) masks past trauma, a recurring theme in McCabe’s fiction. The nature of the trauma of course cannot be disclosed here, for it is the destination to which the book leads. Which is not to say that it is the point of The Holy City; the journey is what matters, McCabe viewing his books as exercises in style. Here the style is a comic, meandering one, with McCool punctuating his reminiscences with disturbing punchlines, more unsettling than funny, and without the self-awareness to hide his worst qualities. These are combined with blunt pointers (“my psychotherapist”) and references to the social mores of Ireland then and now, as when he attempts to “provide some background to the reason I insulted my psychotherapist Meera Pandit and called her unwholesome names.”

Not that Meera was what you’d call proper black – not really. Not ‘full-blown’ black, I mean to say. Not Nigerian, for example – ebony – black and shiny the way that Marcus Otoyo was. Gleaming and polished, in that shiny African way. No, Pandit, you see, was a Hindu, not from anywhere near Nigeria, or anywhere else in Africa for that matter. I think from somewhere out near Bangladesh. As a matter of fact, to be fair to old Meera, now that I think of her, she was like something that might have emerged from the sixties herself, with her scarves and her bangles and her floppy Birkenstock sandals.

– You stupid black fucker! was, in fact, what I had said.

Two central elements in the book are present here: Marcus Otoyo, who is key to McCool’s story (and trauma), and the casual racism of the past. This in itself serves a double purpose. It is indicative of McCool’s wider lack of human empathy – his depersonalisation of others (“The Balloon People have arrived!”) is repeatedly shown in the book, a marker of a psychopathic personality. Similarly, Catholics and Protestants in the book regard one another as a lumpen mass, and this matches the racism as a reflection of the changing social attitudes of Ireland in recent decades, and the less welcome changes brought about in tandem (“What exactly was happening to the town of Cullymore?”).

McCabe shirks the bespoke label for his books of “bog gothic,” preferring “the social fantastic” – “People have often commented that everyone in the books is mad or damaged. But you should view them as prisms through which the feelings of society are reflected. These are not naturalistic fictions.” You can say that again.

McCabe’s facility for this type of writing – as he put it of Breakfast on Pluto, “it’s meant to be a small hand-grenade of a book, but a burlesque as well” – can leave the reader thinking that it’s all too easy for him, and that the book is somehow less valuable as a result. And it is true that there is little here which has not been explored in his earlier fiction. But it all fits together so beautifully, and is so entertaining to read even when you can see the author’s fingers on the buttons, that for me there was nothing to forgive. “If your character is repugnant in all respects,” McCabe explained in an interview, “nobody can read it. Having some narrative tricks in this day and age is essential, at least for the first ten pages.” Or, in this case, the first two hundred and ten.


  1. I confess I am one of those who hasn’t “bloody read” Call Me the Breeze though in my defence, I do own it. I did read and very much enjoy The Butcher’s Boy some years ago, but it was one of those books that I only realised how much I liked it about two weeks after I read it. It unsettled me while I was reading, and if I’m honest I was actually rather pleased to finish it. But standing back from it, it was fantastic. I think that’s why I’ve never got around to opening Call Me the Breeze. It feels like the kind of thing I have to psych myself up for.

  2. I like the sound of this. I think witty, charming and barking mad are clinchers for me. I just checked and I have ‘Winterwood’ on my shelf, presumably thanks to your review. I might bump that up the list – and also I have ‘Carn’ with no real idea where it came from…

  3. Great post. I am totally unfamiliar with his work and may have to remedy that as your other recommendations have been so good.

  4. Reading this review, it strikes me that Patrick McCabe has certain similarities with another Patrick Mc — Patrick McGrath. At least, “The Holy City” sounds very McGrath-esque, only with the intention of being far broader. But all the disturbing punchlines, the barking madness, the sudden references to things like psychotherapists…that’s certainly McGrath country.

    I’ve read “The Butcher Boy”, which I liked quite a bit, and “Breakfast on Pluto”, which I also liked, but not as much. I’ve been floating around his other books, all of which I own (well, all but this new one and “Music on Clinton Street”), trying to figure out where to go next. I’ll probably land on “Winterwood”, based on your praise and my own belief that it sounds interesting, but part of me wants to go with “Emerald Germs of Ireland”.

  5. Bill, I’d recommend The Dead School or Winterwood. And yes, there is a loose affinity with McGrath, though in my view McGrath’s books are neater and silkier, as it were, even while concealing psychological and sexual dreadfulness. In the days when I hadn’t read any McCabe but was a paid-up McGrath fanatic, and scoured the bookshops and publishing schedules in case he’d brought out a new book without telling me, I regularly had heartstopping moments when what I thought was a new McGrath turned out to be a McCabe. Now of course, I’ll happily take either, which is just as well since they now share the same UK publisher, and so the potential for confusion is all the greater.

    Kirsty, do report back if you pick up Call Me the Breeze, as I haven’t read it (or Mondo Desperado or Emerald Germs). I’m fearful to, in case the reviews were right. Jem, Winterwood is both a perfect introduction and vaguely unrepresentative of McCabe’s other work, but I’ll be interested to know what you think if you do read it.

    Ted, nice to see you here again. I think we clicked over MacLaverty before, didn’t we? McCabe, as you have probably worked out, is a fellow Irishman, though his books have almost nothing in common with MacLaverty’s.

  6. It took me two reads to decide, but after the second one I concluded that The Holy City (and it is the first McCabe that I have read) is quite a good book. The first time through, a part of me was very intrigued with the way that McCabe told us a traumatic event had taken place (without saying much about what it was) and then proceeded to explore the consequences of that event. Another part of me wondered whether this was just a cheap device (he does it more than once in this book) and that I should resent being taken in. The second read, fortunately, confirmed the first impression — I enjoyed the reread immensely.

    As a 60-year-old, white male (although not Irish, despite the first name), I also have to say that this book definitely speaks to my demographic. C.J. spends a good part of the book celebrating the music of the 60s — the fact that I not only remember Lulu and Peggy Lee but also the lyrics that are quoted certainly had an influence. More important to my favorable impression of the book, however, is the way the author effectively captures the transient elements of the culture as time passes. In his youth, the Catholic-Portestant conflict gets a lot of attention and influence. Then we have the arrival of the Commonwealth immigrants, in the form of Pandit and her boss, who become equally threatening to CJ. By the present time, when the narrative actually takes place, the East Europeans have arrived. All of this also gets reflected in the bars and dance halls CJ frequents and the development that occurs — the stamp exchange store is about to become a massive Radisson conference centre. It is a very interesting exploration of the development of the Celtic Tiger.

    All of this is done with a prose style that I found most entertaining, although again it took a second read to really appreciate. I do suspect that a younger reader may find a lot of what I like quite opaque — then again, there are not a lot of books written for my demographic (probably because there aren’t many readers who fit my demographic). The comparison with McGrath — and John’s comments on the differences — are also quite fair. I too thought about McGrath while reading this book, but there is no doubt that his style is definitely “silkier”.

  7. Thanks Kevin. Your second paragraph captures the milieu and themes of the book rather better (and more succinctly) than I have.

    I note that this was your first McCabe. It would certainly be interesting to have your thoughts on some of his earlier novels. There is a definite stylistic pattern.

  8. I’ve ordered Winterwood and Breakfast on Pluto (I’m interested in the 1970s London angle in that one). I expect to be adding The Dead School sometime in the relatively near future.

  9. The book got slapped down in ‘The Sunday Times’ this weekend. Tom ‘I’m-going-to-mention-Ulysses-in-this-review-if-it-kills-me’ Deveson said, ‘It’s hard to describe how boring this soon becomes’. Ouch.

    I didn’t get on at all well with McGrath’s ‘Asylum’ recently, and I suspect I’d find myself in a simliar situation with McCabe. Unreliable narrators that know they’re being unreliable (and therefore aren’t actually unreliable at all) do become boring after a while.

  10. Ever since Mondo Desperado I’ve sort of abandoned McCabe. Personally out of the four books I’ve read by him (The big three plus the one I mentioned above) Dead School impressed me A LOT! Breakfast on Pluto got on my nerves and although I enjoyed the Butcher Boy, I felt that it lacked something.

    I will definitely order Winterwood, i’m quite curious.

    Although I am Maltese I can relate to McCabe’s books, there’s a sort of weirdness that our island has as well. You do find characters like Francis Brady (well the early version, not the post Jesuit one) running about .

  11. I don’t think I have ever read a more abjectly hopeless review as Deveson’s of this book. It is so obviously beyond the reviewer that he should have sent back the copy. Frankly, the fact that he misunderstood everything — literally everything — about the book is a great tribute to McCabe. Really, the Times should be finding someone who, Ulysses asides, actually knows how to read a book. This review is truly dreadful.

  12. You know I don’t come on here and I don’t come on here and then my fingers get itchy and then I do and then I am sorry. I am supposed to cut down DRASTICALLY on book purchases an d I am finding it difficult. It is all your fault, among others.

  13. Yes Kevin, I saw Deveson’s review yesterday and felt it was so unremittingly negative – unable to spot anything good about the book – that, at the risk of ‘pulling a Hensher’, I wondered if some ulterior motive might be at hand. Or it could be, as you have intimated, that he just didn’t get it.

    deucekindred, the island point is a good one. Perhaps just as species evolve in isolation on islands, so too do people. I do recommend Winterwood, particularly as you liked The Dead School (I’ve mentioned above that I think those two are his best books, though The Holy City impressed me very much too).

    Sam, I think I know what you mean about knowingly unreliable narrators, though I myself have an almost bottomless appetite for McGrath’s versions. I wonder if you might get on better with Dr Haggard’s Disease (if you haven’t tried it already), which is my favourite of his books, and where the narrator is thoroughly lost in his own telling.

    Candy, close your eyes and think of the good you’ll be doing the economy. Spend, spend, spend!

  14. I’ll forgive Deveson a lot, ever since his review of Jeffrey Archer’s ‘False Impressions’ (I’ve linked to it before, so I won’t do so again).

    Thanks for the recommendation, John, but I was so disappointed with ‘Asylum’ that it might be a while before I get round to him again. I do like unreliable narrators, but I prefer the Hamsun kind: liars who don’t know they’re lying.

  15. I too wondered about a hidden agenda in the Deveson review. I can certainly understand him not liking the book but this seemed to be more of a vendetta than a review. Even when you don’t like the work, as a reviewer you usually try to give people a hint of what it is about. That’s why I think it may have been totally beyond his understanding.

  16. Interesting stuff, the first paragraph made me laugh – I’ve read The Butcher Boy and had always been under the impression it was his first novel. The ones nobody has read indeed.

    It sounds interesting, and the issues Kevin highlights are ones that I’d be happy to see addressed, but at the same time it does sound a little self-consciously stylised. Is that unfair though?

    Oddly, I enjoyed The Butcher Boy but never felt inclined to pick up another, perhaps I should turn first to Breakfast on Pluto.

  17. I think ‘self-consciously stylised’ is reasonably fair, Max. There is no attempt to hide the artifice in McCabe’s books: as he says, these are not naturalistic fictions. I can’t remember much about Breakfast on Pluto except that I didn’t like it quite as much as The Butcher Boy or The Dead School.

    I was so disappointed with ‘Asylum’ that it might be a while before I get round to him again. I do like unreliable narrators, but I prefer the Hamsun kind: liars who don’t know they’re lying.

    Sam, it’s perhaps unfortunate that you chose Asylum as your first McGrath, as it’s his only knowingly unreliable narrator. Or should I say, it’s his only narrator who is actively seeking to mislead the reader. Indeed, McGrath has probably run the gamut of variants on unreliable narrative in his novels. In The Grotesque, Sir Hugo Coal was repressed and in denial and unaware of whether or not he really knew what was going on. In Spider, Dennis Cleg was mentally ill (schizophrenic, I think?) with no real insight into his condition. In Dr Haggard’s Disease, Edward Haggard was delusional and convinced of what he believed. In Port Mungo, Gin Savage was so besotted with her brother that she was unable to see his true nature. In Trauma, Charlie Weir knows that there is something he doesn’t know, but he isn’t sure what. (As is my habit, I have omitted the runt of McGrath’s litter, Martha Peake, from this run-through.)

    However I shall not attempt to tilt you in McGrath’s direction again for fear of discouraging you all the more. Another problem for writers of unreliable narratives (Ishiguro also springs to mind) is how to stay ahead of the reader – without making it too artificial – when the reader is expecting to be misled.

  18. The “unreliable narrator” discussion is interesting in reference to The Holy City (even if it has mainly been about McGrath). CJ is totally unreliable as a narrator in all three time frames in which the book takes place — in fact, he’s in a bit of a struggle to find a stable bottom in each of the three. For me, that was the best thing about the book. The cultural surroundings that CJ faces are very familiar if you are old enough or have read enough. His disconnect with them (we haven’t talked about the Eggmen yet and it is a very nice touch) is what makes this an interesting book.

    I also think “self-consciously stylised” is a good description of the writing in the book. In fact, it was probably concerns about exactly that which caused me to think I needed to read it a second time before deciding that I liked it. That reflection caused me to conclude that McCabe is doing it deliberately and doing it very well — on the other hand, I could easily understand how some readers would not find the rhythm of his style to their taste and once it started to bother you, I suspect it could rapidly become a real annoyance. Forewarned is forearmed, Max.

  19. Absolutely Kevin, knowing it is so actually makes it less offputting, though I’m not a huge personal fan of obtrusive writing as a rule. Hm, I think this gets added to my radar, as opposed to my TBR, McCabe is back on my consider reading ,pre list which (given I enjoyed The Butcher Boy) he had perhaps unfairly dropped off.

    Of course, the key is he does it well, there are things I tend not to like in novels but nothing that sufficient skill in the writer can’t overcome.

  20. Thanks for the run-through, John! Edward Haggard sounds like my type of unreliable narrator: I usually find those types of unreliable narrators the most compelling, and the books compulsive. I suppose my problem with ‘Asylum’ is that I couldn’t see any reason – structural or characterological – for the narrator keeping all that information from the reader until the end. It felt like a juvenile trick, especially as the narrator seemed perfectly happy to drop some (annoyingly) heavy hints along the way (but, of course, the hints were McGrath’s, not the narrator’s, which also annoyed me). And I don’t think it’s enough of a defence to say that the lies in the narrative reflect the character of the narrator. Why’s he lying, for one? And why’s he lying to the reader? And why reveal the lies towards the end? What had changed in the narrator’s character that he felt the need to reveal all? None of this was explored. This annoyed me too.

    Anyway, wrong author, wrong thread.

  21. The frightening thing, Sam, is that your criticisms of Asylum match almost precisely mine about Andrew Sean Greer’s The Story of a Marriage, which would have been on a shortlist of two or three for my worst read of last year if I’d been wicked enough to compose such a list. So why I should not level those accusations at McGrath too, I’m not sure. If I go back to Asylum and start to not like it as much, then may God have mercy on your soul.

    What’s interesting about Asylum is that if you look at the Amazon reviews, there are a good many people – perhaps even a majority – who read it purely as the story of Stella, and appear never to consider Peter Cleave’s role, even though to me he is the central character in the book. It’s McGrath’s most successful book too, particularly in Italy where I understand McGrath has the sort of following that Ian McEwan does here, and where Asylum has sold almost a million copies.

  22. I agree the narrator was the central character in the book. I only wish he’d been more of a character: more soul-probing of himself, in more of a struggle with himself – more human, in short, instead of just this quite simple liar. I had the same issue with Lanchester’s ‘The Debt to Pleasure’. I can see why authors get a kick out of this kind of narrative (it’s probably fun to write, and they no doubt think it gives the book a page-turning feel), but, at the risk of repeating myself, I don’t think they don’t do their narrators any favours by turning them into plot devices rather than fully-imagined human beings.

    I’ve never liked McEwan’s work either (I do like some authors, honest!), and felt strangely vindicated when he started on his dumb rants on Islamism in recent years. He now annoys me also.

  23. I was following this discussion with interest and then yesterday morning a copy of The Story of a Marriage arrived through the mail slot (I’d won it in DGR holiday draw). Dismissing the notion of serendipity, I figured I should probably read it immediately, although I did check out John’s review first. Now that I have invested an evening in the process, I can’t help joining the discussion.

    I think that careful, negative review contains one of the more perceptive paragraphs that John has written: “…but often a tipping point is reached during the reading of a book, where my view is crystallised and becomes fixed. So I will tend to notice more things that support that view, and overlook things that don’t.”

    I share that characteristic — in my case, I call it the Kevin tree. When the tree starts to tip in one direction (positive or negative), it is very difficult for the author to start pushing it the other way. In my own case, I would offer my negative response to Salter’s Light Years and my difficulty in finishing Anne Michael’s forthcoming book, The Winter Vault. In both cases, the writing started to annoy me; I quickly found yet more examples of why it did and; by halfway through both books could see nothing but yet more examples of writing I didn’t like. That might not be fair to the author(s); it is what the reader felt.

    So I read Greer’s book last night. Perhaps because of John’s review, I did not find Pearlie to be an unreliable narrator. Rather, I found her to be very linear and straightforward — the surprises in the book (while certainly serving the author’s plot interests) came because she was not yet ready to pay attention to them. I don’t think that makes her unreliable, just deliberate.

    I didn’t particularly like the book — mawkish and cliche ridden are appropriate words — but, as John observed, it is short and does keep the interest up. It would be in my bottom quartile — perhaps decile — of recently read books but I have certainly read worse. My comparison would be with The Spare Room, a novel that a number of Man Booker posters thought deserved to be on the shortlist. For me, both Spare Room and Marriage were unsuccessful attempts at exploiting emotion, but I have to admit that they obviously appealed to others.

    Which brings me to my main point for joining this discussion. All good authors at some point ask readers to suspend their belief in reality and exchange it for a trust in something that is obviously not real. Ian MacEwan (whom I quite like) does this very effectively in his best books (Atonement, Enduring Love) and not at all well in his worst (Amsterdam, Saturday). I haven’t read Asylum yet but I suspect when I do (and I will) this exchange has conditioned me so that I will be more tolerant of McGrath’s approach. It is like a biologist who needs to taint a blue slide red to be able to see what he seeks — he needs to alter reality to begin to understand what that reality actually is. Good novelists do exactly that.

    So Greer did not succeed for me, but did for others. McCabe did, but the Times reviewer obviously got turned off (go back to John’s description of the Kevin tree starting to lean — I suspect for the reviewer of McCabe that lean started about page 4). Sometimes for a reader, the challenge is to stop that lean from occuring. So I would replace the notion of “unreliable” narrator with the notion of “unconvincing” narrator — and when they start to be unconvincing, they start to become very annoying.

  24. ‘Sometimes for a reader, the challenge is to stop that lean from occuring.’

    Very true, Kevin. I think readers do try to stop the lean from occurring for as long as possible, though. Readers are pretty fair, I think, willing to overlook all kinds of silliness at the start of a book in the belief that it’ll make sense later on. I think authors are afforded a generous level of the reader’s goodwill at the start of a book; enough to mean that it probably takes a good few pages for the author to fully squander that goodwill and the reader to put the book down. No one forks out money for a book wanting to dislike it, after all.

  25. Excellent review again John. It has certainly whetted my appetite for this book and has given me high hopes that McCool will be a character to cherish alongside Francie Brady and Pussy Braden. I have been a keen follower of McCabe since The Butcher Boy. That book remains the book that I have recommended and loaned out more than any other. For me there is something about the bad boy first person narrative – Clockwork Orange, Catcher in the Rye and Animal’s People spring to mind. Of his other works Breakfast on Pluto and Winterwood stand out and hopefully The Holy City will sit well alongside these. And if it reaches the heights of The Butcher Boy then I will be a happy bunny.

  26. Sam: I think you are right about the goodwill that most readers bring to a book — I think it is equally true that once the feeling starts to arrive that that goodwill is being abused, the negative reaction starts to build. That, perhaps, is one of the more obscure joys of reading. Kevin

  27. Read “Call Me the Breeze” and really didn’t like it at all. Terrible stuff. “Winterwood” left me with mixed thoughts. Very well written but sent shivers through me. One of those books that on reflection months later you realise is wonderful.

  28. Agree, Joe. The edition of Winterwood I read had a red sewn-in ribbon bookmark and it always reminded me of a trickle of blood running between the pages…

    You’ve also answered my question about Call Me the Breeze, though I was going to ask Andy if he’s read that one, and the other two less-well-received titles (Mondo Desperado and Emerald Germs). The ‘bad boy first person narrative’ is an interesting idea, too. Other contenders: A Clockwork Orange, perhaps?

    Kevin, I like your tree metaphor. I think it’s interesting to consider, too, how much prior knowledge of (and liking for) an author conditions our response to a book. We often hear the criticism, “If this had been a first novel by an unknown, it never would have been published.” Often it’s true, but it’s equally true that giving a book the benefit of the doubt because of pre-established trust in the author, gives the reader time to uncover worthwhile things they might have overlooked if reading it ‘cold’. And, for example, my experience of Philip Roth is that he’s an author it’s almost impossible to enjoy outside the context of his other works and his reputation.

  29. I, too, am what Stewart calls a “completist” — if one of an author’s books is worthwhile, I want to read the whole list. And I tend to evaluate authors based on that entire context, even if a few volumes don’t measure up to the standard I expect (that’s where I think the pre-established trust you mention leads to a “I’ll forgive him this one and remember the good parts” attitude, which I think is entirely acceptable. Then there are authors (Irving and Atwood come to immediate mind) where a couple of books cause me to realize that the author and I have parted ways and my relation to that author is now complete, even if their work isn’t. Now that I think about it, this is probably why I have never taken on Dickens as a mature adult reader — given that approach, I’d be committing myself to a great deal of readiing.

  30. I have not read all of his works. Having finished The Butcher Boy I moved straight on to Carn and was somewhat underwhelmed. I also tried Mondo Desperado but failed to finish it. With that and the luke warm reviews I passed on both Emerald Gems and Call Me The Breeze. So now I feel very guilty that I didn’t “bloody read it” and having looked at the synopsis of each on Amazon they look promising. Maybe I’ll get round to them. The Neil Jordan adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto was on TV over Christmas. It was an excellent adaptation and his second collaboration with McCabe following The Butcher Boy.
    And you can not claim Clockwork Orange as it was in my original list!
    Patrick Bateman is a good shout. I think he can safely be included in the ‘bad boy’ category.

  31. Then there are authors (Irving and Atwood come to immediate mind) where a couple of books cause me to realize that the author and I have parted ways and my relation to that author is now complete, even if their work isn’t.

    Perfectly put, Kevin, and that’s the case for me with Irving too. Elsewhere recently I described him as the opposite of an acquired taste.

    And you can not claim Clockwork Orange as it was in my original list!


  32. Strangely enough I didn’t like Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto too much, it reminded me, for some strange reason, of a souless (and less camp) version Hedwig and the angry inch. Maybe it’s cause i saw it directly after the Butcher Boy which impressed me. Saying that both are faithful adaptations.

    Kevin… I agree with you there. I believe in going the whole hog when tackling books and music for that matter. I believe you get more when you devour everything. Funnily enough the other day I was discussing this with a friend and we both agreed that there are authors which you drop as the relation is complete. The author we both agreed on was Irvine Welsh.

    When I was in my early twenties I adored Irvine Welsh but then after Porno ( I ‘forgave’ him for Glue- urgh that bit with the country singer!) I felt that i couldn’t relate to him anymore (or that he’s now a terrible writer) my last favourite book of his was filth and that’s where it stops really.

  33. This discussion have been sleeping for quite a while but I have to add the Mondo Desperado sure has its moments. According to me “The Bursted Priest” is as far as tragedy and comedy are able to go together without falling.
    There were other enjoyable stories in “Mondo Desperado” as well but they seem a little pale compared to “The Bursted Priest”.
    I lost some of my interest in “Emerald Germs of Ireland” when I still had quite a bunch of pages left to go but I regained it well before it ended.
    Wonderful ending, by the way. It was uneven but when it was good, it was brilliant.

  34. I have just finished WinterWood, an excellent and interesting read, so I thought it was a good time to bring this thread back up for consideration. WinterWood does bear comparison with The Holy City — in both books, McCabe balances the mythology and history of Ireland with the (for him) looming presence of the Celtic Tiger. Perhaps what I like best about him as an author is his honest effort to bridge those two worlds — and he needs to resort to some very ambiguous plot to do it. For me, a most rewarding author as John indicates in this review. Extended thoughts on both books are on my blog.

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