SECOND OPINION: Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary

Review published on January 25, 2018.

1980s Dublin is painted as a grim, depressed city. Sonny is the youngest of several brothers in a family struggling to keep afloat. Although he has gained a place at a grammar school, he is not thriving – singled out as a ‘welfare’ boy, hampered by lack of support and low expectations at home. Things come to a head when he starts cannibalising other students’ bicycles for parts to make one of his own. He is expelled from school and seems to be destined for an unwelcome apprenticeship in a butcher’s shop.

While helping his father work on a house in a wealthy suburb, he is smitten by the sophisticated householder, Vera, and an edgy relationship develops between them. Edgy because each of them offers the other something they need and, although it is obvious that Sonny is attracted by proximity to a better kind of life, it is not immediately apparent what the introspected, reticent Vera could be looking for from Sonny.

This is an emotionally charged story. Sonny’s predicament is heartbreaking. His earnestness in hoping to educate himself and trying to involve himself in Vera’s life struck me particularly. I wondered throughout how things could work out well for him.

The most significant way in which the author creates this feeling of foreboding is his use of the second person and the past tense. As a result, the novel reads as an accusation or as an apology – a really effective technique. It works especially well on Sonny’s relationship with his friend Sharon, a girl from a background like his who is also trying so hard in her prickly, graceless way to better herself. ‘And after she had gone, and the bus rumbled forward, you were left to wish you had mentioned, just once, how she looked nice.’

This story is superbly well written and, at only 230 pages, pared down to its essentials so that its messages hit hard. Karl Geary’s own history shows that there is a possibility of escape for Sonny. I read that he left Ireland for New York at 16 and prospered, through luck and talent, becoming an actor and screenwriter, and now a novelist shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award. Perhaps the cinematic quality of this novel is telling, I’d certainly love to see it as a film.

Sue Broom 5/5

Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary
Harvill Secker 9781911215455 hbk Jan 2017

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