The Glorious Heresies – last years’ winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize – is a fast, fresh and gripping first novel. Written by Lisa McInerney, it manages to evoke laughter, disgust and empathy all in the same page. It’s quick paced. Yet, McInerney gives the necessary time and devotion to both character development and establishment of location. Although a Galway native, she has described Cork as the place she has always felt connected to, and her familiarity with the vernacular of the county is clearly evident throughout. Currently residing in Gort with her husband and daughter, the writer intends to relocate to Cork City as soon as funds permit.
While the novel is told from the perspectives of a number of different characters, including drug dealers and prostitutes, right at the heart of it is the coming of age of a young Cork native, Ryan. It depicts a talented and troubled youth, scarred and shaped by his social surroundings. A skill with narrative is extremely prevalent throughout, as the story weaves and interlinks characters and their tales together effortlessly with a page turning intensity. She explores the lives of several different natives, all the while reverting back to Ryan, as he slips deeper and deeper into the criminal lifestyle.
While development of these fictitious characters is at the forefront of the novel, it also delves deeper into social issues in both past and present day Ireland. It portrays challenging views on topics such as sex, religion and family relations as well as exploring valid cultural issues related to substance addiction and domestic violence. However, while the subject matter is often heavy, McInerney deals with it effectively through the use of black humour. As well as this, she depicts a level of empathy and tenderness in her characters that often disarms readers. She enhances the central players of her story, making them easily relatable and even lovable.
In its depiction of sex, drugs and crime, comparisons can be drawn between McInerney’s work and that of acclaimed Scottish writer Irvine Welsh, best known for his debut novel Trainspotting. Both novels successfully depict the lives of lower class citizens who lead lives of violence and petty thievery to cure boredom, feed habits or escape troubled family homes. Welsh brings use of the vernacular to extremes and traces of this too can be found in the Irish writer’s work, the latter being clearly familiar with the colloquial language of the southern Irish inhabitants. Both novels also use the voices of a number of different characters as a means of narration, all of which are interlinked as the story develops.
The Glorious Heresies offers a bold and exciting insight into McInerney’s fictitious world of crime and deceit. With this her first novel, she has certainly established herself as a promising new writer in the Irish contemporary literary scene. And if The Glorious Heresies is something you enjoyed, why not check out the sequel, The Blood Miracles, which has just been released. James Holohan