Book Review: “The Blood Miracles” by Lisa McInerney

I LOVED The Glorious Heresies; we read it in my book club last year after it won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and all of us thought it was fantastic. A well-deserved winner. So, we had no problem picking the follow-up to read as one of our summer three and I had very high expectations.

The Blood Miracles imgThe novel begins more or less where The Glorious Heresies left off with the central character, Ryan Cusack, embroiled ever more deeply in the Cork city underworld of drugs, money laundering and violence. McInerney has managed to keep Ryan’s character consistent – he has evolved in an entirely credible way – although, unlike in the first novel, there now seems almost no hope of the more refined, gentler side of his personality prevailing to choose a different lifestyle. He is more embedded in the criminal fraternity than ever but remains an engaging and attractive central character. If anything, his charisma grows as he matures; true, he does some pretty unpleasant things, and not always at the behest of his criminal masters, but you can see that McInerney, if this turns out to be part of a series of novels, is building him up to be the tormented gangster.

Other characters remain consistent too. There is Karine, Ryan’s long-suffering girlfriend; their teenage romance was a beautiful precious thing in the first novel, amidst the degradation of events. Their relationship continues in The Blood Miracles but with new twists and turns as they grow up and innocence is left well and truly behind them. The addition of another potential love interest, in the form accountancy student Natalie, brings some further complications to Ryan’s messy personal life. There is also Ryan’s father Tony, the broken man, an alcoholic who was widowed young with five children to bring up. Portrayed as pathetic and useless in the first novel, he plays a lesser part here, but in some ways his strengths and his importance to Ryan become more apparent. I was puzzled by the title of the novel until almost near the end when an exchange between father and son on Ryan’s birthday makes it clear – blood, family, can drive the greatest and most profound acts in all of us.

The remaining characters include the two senior gangsters – Dan Kane, for whom Ryan works as a dealer, and Jimmy Phelan, who was so prominent in The Glorious Heresies – and their various acolytes, including Maureen Phelan (Jimmy’s mother) who once again plays a pivotal role. The city of Cork also looms large in the novel, as does Ryan’s love-hate relationship with it:

“This city, like all cities, hates its natives. It would rather be in a constant state of replenishment than own up to what it has warped.”

The basic plot is a drug deal, a major shipment of MDMA from Italy to Ireland. Ryan’s mother was Italian and he speaks the language. This has made him an instrumental part of the deal with the Camorra in Naples. The drugs go astray in what appears to be a theft from Dan Kane’s girlfriend after she’d picked up the shipment and was moving it to a safe house. The rest of the book is about solving the mystery of the missing merchandise and the accusations and counter-accusations.

I found the novel a bit slow to start and I was worried that it wasn’t going to live up to the promise of The Glorious Heresies, but about a quarter of the way through the pace changes quite significantly. So, if you’re struggling initially, persevere at least to page 100! You realise that in the first part of the book there is a lot of scene-setting going on and the author is working hard to recreate the settings, themes and characters from her earlier book. If you hadn’t read The Glorious Heresies this would help set the context for you, but you will enjoy this book more if you’ve read the first. As the plot around the missing drugs thickens, it becomes completely compelling and the denouement is utterly brilliant – I could actually feel my heart beating faster!

Can’t tell you more without giving too much away, I’m afraid. Suffice to say it is a page-turner. It’s earthy and visceral with plenty of sex, drugs, booze and swearing! The writing is incredible, particularly the dialogue. It is narrated almost like one of those old-fashioned 1950s gangster movies, with smoke-filled rooms, seductive women and a lilting sax in the background! Like the title of the first Ryan Cusack novel it’s also glorious!

Highly recommended.

Have you read this book? How do you think it compares to The Glorious Heresies and do you think you can read this without reading the first?

If you have enjoyed this post, I would love for you to follow my blog. You can do so by clicking on the Follow button. Thanks.

Book review: “The Power” by Naomi Alderman

So earlier in the week, I posted about the Man Booker 2017 shortlist and today I want to tell you about a prize winner, The Power by Naomi Alderman which won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in June. This year’s shortlist was a strong one, so it did well to come out on top. I’d also read Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Stay With Me from the shortlist; this latter book is wonderful and so I was expecting great things from The Power. I took it on holiday with me and read it in just a handful of sessions (my favourite way to read) and I’m afraid to say I was a little disappointed. For me, it was not better than Stay With Me.

Naomi Alderman

I’m not a huge fan of science fiction; my last foray into this genre was Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, which I think I probably enjoyed more than The Power if I’m honest. Because I’m not a big reader of this genre I find it quite difficult to review. I’m not sure what the norms and expectations are, so the things I might criticise or dislike are perhaps standard constructions in science fiction. For example, when reviewing a historical novel, we expect accuracy, realism, research. When reviewing a novel set in our own time we expect realism in the sense of standards that we recognise as possible. With science fiction, however, it irritates me that all normal conventions are suspended. Perhaps that why SF writers write in this genre, because they are free of those constraints, but to me it seems a bit lazy. I’ll give you an example: I enjoyed Station Eleven but I couldn’t get this nagging thought out of my brain that we were dealing with one small part of the United States, and I just couldn’t quite believe that the rest of the world had been similarly afflicted and could not make contact – pre-electricity societies managed to get around the globe fairly successfully!

img_3831However, The Power is a prize-winner and seems to have been universally lauded, most notably by Margaret Atwood (Alderman’s literary mentor) whose ground-breaking novel The Handmaid’s Tale has just enjoyed a very successful television adaptation. The premise of The Power is a subversion of current social norms where men dominate, to one where women discover that they have a physical superiority, an ability to electrocute and disable, even kill, men. The novel begins (presumably in the current time) when women begin to discover they have this power and start to use it in ways that enable them to dominate. The story is told through the experiences of a number of women and a male. First there is Roxy, the young daughter of a London gangster who, once she discovers her power, undertakes a purge of all her male foes, her father’s enemies, and her half-brothers who threaten her, to become the top gangster in her field. Then there is Margot a small-time US politician who discovers she has the power and uses it, over a period of years to eliminate her political enemies and rise to great things. Initially, Margot has to hide her power; society is initially hostile to it, and therefore those who have it, seeing at as a threat which could upset order and stability (yes, much of the novel has to be read as a deep irony). Margot, as a politician is also connected with a number of corporations who would no longer support her if they knew she was a carrier of the power. Third, there is Allie, a teenager adopted into a right-wing southern American Christian family (more irony). She is abused by her adoptive father and in one of his assaults she electrocutes and kills him. She then escapes to a convent from where she morphs into Mother Eve, the head of the cult which spreads the power worldwide. One of the followers of the cult is Tatiana Moskolev, the estranged wife of the President of Moldova, who sets up her own republic in the north of the country and establishes a brutal regime where men are mere playthings, sexually abused and murdered at will. Finally, there is Tunde, a young Nigerian, who when we first meet him is trying to seduce a young woman, unsuccessfully as it turns out, because she gives him a small but still very humiliating electric shock when he makes his move on her. It is clear the power dynamic has shifted! Tunde senses that change is about to come to the world and so he sets about travelling the globe, posting his obervations on the internet and thereby becomes an international journalistic sensation.

The story has a complicated structure, which at times I found difficult to follow. It is very much a satire, but not in the mode of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, which won last year’s Man Booker Prize. There are parts of the book which are almost too brutal, too visceral, too emotionally raw for satire (maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the age we live in?). At 42 the author is not much younger than me, so I can’t say it’s a generational thing, although I note that among the many other strings to her bow she is a computer game designer. I wonder whether the kind of violence common in that medium means the author has a different perspective (taste?) for use of violence and physicality in art.

It’s a clever book, the idea is fantastically original, subversive (women dominating men!) and mischievous. Alderman is also a very able writer, and it’s an impressive read. I did find the book a page-turner, but it fell off towards the end for me. It just got a bit…silly! But then I also accept that maybe it wasn’t supposed to be credible, and that is indeed the powerful central irony. It’s a good read, but I still preferred Stay With Me for the Bailey’s Prize!

What did you think of The Power? I’d be interested in your perspective if you’re a regular reader of science fiction.

If you have enjoyed this blog, I would love for you to like or follow me, and for us to connect on social media. 

‘Stay With Me’ by Ayobami Adebayo

Stay-with-Me imgThis was April’s choice for my book club and one of the members described it as the best book we have read – she consumed it in virtually one sitting in the middle of the night when she was wide awake with jet lag! A fine endorsement indeed. It really is a marvellous book and, as I so often say on this blog, totally unfair that one so young should exhibit this much talent in a debut novel! It has also been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction this year (winner to be annonced on 7 June), so it’s hot.

 

 

 

 

The blurb on the jacket is cryptic:

“There are things even love can’t do…if the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love.”

It’s hard to provide a review without giving away too much, because the twists and turns of the plot are a joy. It’s also a very tough read at times, so be prepared for some challenging parts.

The first chapter is set in 2008 but only makes sense once you have finished the book, so do come back to it. The book starts proper in 1985 when we first meet Yejide and Akin, a young married couple living in Ilesa in Nigeria. They are a thoroughly modern couple enjoying a happy middle class life, he a successful banker, she a beautician with her own business. Their relationship is placed under severe strain, however, because they are infertile. They themselves are very much in love and seem quite happy with their lot, but their respective families have high expectations of children. Thus they come up against powerful cultural forces; both are children of polygamous households and this contrasts forcefully with their much more enlightened outlook.

There is superstition and witchcraft here too. Quite early on, under unbearable pressure, Yejide turns to traditional quackery to conceive and ends up developing what can only be described as a mental illness where she develops a phantom pregnancy that lasts nearly eighteen months. Akin, on the other hand, is under pressure from his own side to take a second wife, as it is considered the priority is to produce a child not to have a happy marriage. The tussle between modern and traditional ways of thinking create mistrust and betrayal in Akin and Yejide’s relationship where previously there was only love and passion.

This is all played out against the backdrop of social and political unrest in Nigeria in the 1980s. I was hoping this would play a bigger part in the novel having enjoyed so profoundly Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimimande Ngozi Adiche) a few years ago, but it’s not that kind of book. The political upheaval going on in the background is there more as a metaphor for transition, what happens when society is forced to evolve out of its traditions. It also helps with the plot later on.

The pace of this book is fast, but it loses nothing in quality for being so. It’s a brilliant plot, jaw-dropping even. The writing is breathtaking and at times deeply moving. So, I must say no more, only go and read it and enjoy!

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it?

If you have enjoyed this post and would like to subscribe to my blog, please click on the button below or to the right, depending on your device.