A Necessary Weevil

Downturn Abbey, by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, as told to Paul Howard (Penguin Ireland, €13.99)

John Wyse Jackson

"… And showed by one satiric touch,

No nation needed it so much."

From the time of Jonathan Swift, and indeed before him, with the mocking verses of the Gaelic bards, Ireland has had need of her satirists. A string of comic magazines and broadsides fulfilled the role in the 19th Century, while in the 20th it was Myles na gCopaleen above all who laid bare (at least to the readers of The Irish Times) the hypocrisies behind our institutions, both private and public.

Now, in our day, we have the brilliant Paul Howard, the necessary weevil in the biscuit-barrel of hokum philosophies, prejudices and easy assumptions that sustain life in this modern Ireland of ours.

I am ashamed to admit that before this book was sent to me for review, I had never read anything he had written, except perhaps the single word ëroyshí ñ which is now part of the language, roysh? I did not know, either, that the initials of his pseudonym spelt out ëROCKí (what school does THAT remind you of?). His articles had of course been recommended to me, but somehow I had been reluctant, and had never got around to them.

More fool me.

My reluctance stemmed from an impression that the Ross OíCarroll Kelly books had to be scrappy affairs, just collections of his newspaper articles. Not so. If this one, the ninth in the series, is anything to go by, they are proper novels, as intricately plotted as P.G. Wodehouseís, and just as funny.

The characters in this book may be representative types, but they also contrive to be well rounded individuals. They are headed by the narrator, Ross himself, ex-rugby player in his early thirties, already a grandfather, who can be depended on for only one thing: to let his family and friends down. How Paul Howard maintains the readerís sympathy for this despicable creature is a mystery, but he achieves it.

Comic mini-climaxes

The story is punctuated by comic mini-climaxes, each driven by its own logic, and moves with a jaunty swing from one farcical set-piece to the next. One night, dressed as a dowager countess after a fancy-dress party, Ross has to walk through Bray in search of petrol, running the gauntlet of the townís more feral inhabitants. The scene is unforgettable, and worthy of Tom Sharpe at his best.

But it is really the language that gives the greatest pleasure. Howard has an expert ear, not just for ëDortspeakí but for the many other ways that people speak in modern Dublin ñ from his expert childrenís patois (ëYeah, rul good parenting, Mom!í) to his masterly Finglasese (ëYiz rang ta sociaddle worker behoyunt me back.í)

For me, Paul Howard is a great discovery. Now I intend to go back and start at the beginning ñ a treat not just for Christmas, but for 2014 and beyond!