I simply adore coming of age novels and Ardal O’Hanlon’s The Talk of the Town is definitely up there with the best ones.
It’s Ireland in the early eighties and Patrick Scully is nineteen, works as a security guard in jeweler’s and yet is an outcast of sorts. He cannot stand the small town mentality and petty violence which surrounds him and yet his hatred of academia and lack of initiative means he has trouble with getting along with his friends who attend university. Namely his girlfriend, Francesca, who is a misfit like him but attends university and is more studious. The thing is that Patrick wants to cut loose the bonds which restrict him from being himself and when he does there is a huge consequence.
The book’s chronology is not exactly easy to explain but it starts off with Scully attending a nightclub, losing his virginity and then getting beat up. While he is in hospital we get a whole flashback (his point of view) explaining his life prior the punch up. The third half of the book returns to the present-day. Inbetween this we get snatches of Francesca’s diary, which goes into detail about her relationship with Patrick.
In essence this is a book about education and how it can make a person stand out from small town upbringing. It’s a novel about relationships and, like all Irish novels, The IRA have their role as well. At times there are echoes of Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy, especially with the descriptions of the smaller Irish villages and Scully’s frame of mind during the last half of the book. Then again I feel that The Butcher Boy changed Irish fiction and gave it a more humanising aspect, something I see in authors such as Roddy Doyle and Frank McCourt.
For those who do not follow British television Ardal O’Hanlon played the bumbling Father Dougal in the defunct series ‘Father Ted’ and I admit that I would have never expected something this dark. It’s also out of print but there are lots of copies at abebooks.co.uk and in the U.S. it’s called Knick Knack Paddy-whack. I’m giving you all this information because I urge you to read it. It’s not a life changer but it’s an extremely enjoyable novel.
So this is my first book of the new year. Not a bad literary start at all!