In our daily lives, we experience our days with a passive expression – perhaps we’ll feel jovial about an event or disillusioned for another, but every day occurrences are just not as riveting as a tear jerking film. And sometimes, reality is a hard bite to swallow. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney felt much like this, albeit far more dramatic tale than most of our lives. It’s a beautiful, tragic, and human story well worth your time.
It starts with Ryan Cusack, a 15-year-old just growing into a young man, finally getting together with the girl he likes; plus, an introduction to the piano that haunts him throughout the story. Quite suddenly, we are introduced to Maureen who has just killed a man who broke into her home. From there we meet Jimmy Phelan, her son, who is like the figure head of Ireland’s underworld; Tony Cusack, alcoholic and single-father of six, Ryan being his oldest; Georgie, a prostitute trying to find out where her boyfriend has gone; and Tara, neighbor of the Cusack’s and shady as all hell.
There’s a significant emphasis on systematic issues, mainly regarding the Catholic church. Maureen says something early on that really struck a chord with me:
“Funny thing to find a scapular in a place like this, because the only people worthy of grace are the people who’ve done the least to need it, hmm?”
This could have been the blurb on the back of the book for all I cared. This quote sums up everything the story is centered around, and I could feel as soon as I read it. On her journey to find retribution for others, Maureen continues to be outspoken about the issues with the church, with good reason, and is a source of a myriad of philosophical quotes.
Because of how the story focuses on Ryan, I would shelve this book with other coming-of-age books. Not of the friendly sort, though. Even when looking through the eyes of other characters, what happens reflects Ryan’s self, his relationships, and what is going to happen to him. Just the existence of Jimmy Phelan spells doom for the poor kid, a foreboding feeling that could be felt as soon as Jimmy made contact with Tony. On the other hand, Maureen Phelan is Ryan’s savior, and her journey there she’s a representation of Ryan’s chaos, in a way. Georgie was like a window looking at Ryan, so we could see who he was from an outsider’s point of view and what he had become over the course of the story.
At least once for each character, there is a chance for some sort of change. Most of them take it, but Ryan? No, of course the youngest perspective and our focus of the book doesn’t take any chances on development. When his father ends up in rehab, Ryan has an opportunity to act – to say something to Tony, or to turn his life upside down, or something, but I was left disappointed when all the build-up led to nothing. His father went through more development than Ryan, and in a book that follows such a young character for 5 crucial years, it dragged down the story.
Beyond that bit, I can’t say there’s much else to criticize. The characters a wonderfully written (or horribly, if you want to describe the despicable ones accurately). Little details are never forgotten, and it was greatly appreciated – especially little promises Ryan makes to Karine that are referenced later on. The writing style fit perfectly, especially the black humor that was inappropriate in the most appropriate way. McInerney’s displays her skills as a writer excellently and weaves her tale with flowing prose that compliments everything above.
It was hard to pin down whether I “liked” the book or not. There was never a point where I wanted to stop reading or grew bored. There also was never a point where I was biting my knuckles or actively enjoying it.
In fact, at the end, I found myself hating it. My stomach felt abysmal from how the characters either never changed or degenerated so much that I kept hoping for some miracle to happen in the last 50 pages. I kept telling myself, “this can’t be how it ends, there’s a lot that could happen in this short amount of time!” You could say that the last chapter answered my prayers. It took a couple of days for me to see it that way, though.
This is a book that, if you don’t mind all the themes of sex, drugs, violence, etc., deserves your attention, especially if you’re a writer. My conclusion doesn’t contradict my statement of disdain. On the contrary! The hate I felt for it wasn’t because of bad writing or an awful story, but because I hated how reality screwed over the characters I wanted to see succeed. The author reveals many truths that you might not want to hear, but should be heard. The Glorious Heresies is a complex book to be experienced, not to be taken for a joy ride.
Disclaimer: My complimentary copy of The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney paperback was provided by the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review.