Saturday, 14 June 2014

BORN AND BRED — a novel by Peter Murphy

Date: June 13, 2014 Author: BrendanLanders

This is a timely book, set as it is in the Dublin in the 1970s, a pivotal decade in Irish history when, thanks to access to television and affordable travel abroad, the nation’s young people got a taste of what life was like beyond Paddy’s green shamrock shore, and it began to dawn on them that they didn’t have to put up with the stultifying, priest-ridden, Soviet-like drabness in which the country had been mired since the forces of conservatism prevailed in the counter-revolution that followed the War of Independence, when the Free State that constituted 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties won its independence from the United Kingdom.
It is in this milieu where Danny Boyle, the protagonist of Born and Bred, comes of age. Recently uncovered scandals are evidence of the sordid underbelly of the authoritarian zeitgeist against which young people like Danny (and, I suspect, the book’s author) instinctively rebelled – a rebellion which found voice in Banana Republic, a chart-topping song written by Bob Geldoff and recorded by The Boomtown Rats.
The 1970s was also the decade in which the Troubles erupted in Northern Ireland and brought the gun back to Irish politics. It was the decade when the Irish drug trade, which heretofore was dominated by a few longhairs tripping home from Amsterdam or Marrakesh with a bit of weed to flog to their peers, was taken over by organised crime and heroin became a deathly plague that ravaged the poor of Dublin’s inner city. And it was the decade when the criminal underworld, where gangsters and subversives interfaced in occasionally common purpose, burgeoned into a thriving enterprise at the heart of a corrupt and sick society.
This is the world that is masterly evoked in this book, the first book in a trilogy recounting the Boyle family saga, and it is in this world where Danny finds himself entangled in a sequence of events wrought by the confluence of sinister forces. He is a typical young man of the period – outwardly cocky and capable while inwardly awkward and lost. He comes from what the Irish used to call “good stock”, his late grandfather having been a senior operative in the War of Independence and, subsequently, a government minister, so the family name still carries some weight in political and republican circles. Danny’s parents have their demons to fight, his dad, Jerry, being an alcoholic and his mother, Jacinta, suffering from a debilitating psychological condition; so he has been mostly reared by his grandmother, Nora, a devout Catholic, canny matriarch and shrewd operator who dotes on him and devotes all her energies and guile to ensuring his welfare.
Mightily unsure of himself and struggling to find a foothold on life, Danny makes a sketchy living by busking in the Dandelion Market (Dublin’s tame equivalent to Haight-Ashbury) and selling dope for the local dealer, Anto Flanagan. But trouble is brewing between Anto and the Republican gunmen with whom he does business and on top of this there is internecine squabbling afoot in the subversive camp. As is the way with hapless dupes, Danny gets caught in the middle of these nefarious dealings and layered betrayals. Set up as a patsy, his life is on the line.
But he’s not without his allies. Deirdre, the girl he loves, loves him back despite the disapproval of her father, a self-appointed pillar of the community and defender of the status quo. Danny’s father, Jerry, may be an alcoholic but he is not a lost cause and not without his own resources. Father Martin, his mother’s brother, is an idealistic young priest who endeavours to do the right thing despite the dogmatic prejudices of his superiors – and who struggles to choose between his vocation and his feelings for a former nun. And last but not least there’s Nora, his devoted grandma whose ghost continues to look out for him after Nora has left this mortal coil.
Born and Bred is part historical fiction, part political thriller and part social commentary. With a bit of magical realism thrown into the mix it makes for a commanding read and a compulsive page-turner. Will the forces of good prevail? Will Danny live to fight another day. Will he and Deirdre find a way to make their love work? Will Jerry and Jacinta master their demons?
The answers are all in this great book. Read them and weep.
Available from Amazon