domingo, 13 de janeiro de 2013

JOHN THE REVELATOR by Peter Murphy - Reviewed by Marc Goldin

Peter Murphy 
Reviewed by Marc Goldin

Faber and Faber 2009

A young boy’s tale of his life in a small Irish village – more a period of adolescence played out upon the internal dreamscape of its protagonist, John Devine. It’s more than just teenage angst however, it’s a mother and son bond that’s otherworldly.
‘I was born in a storm….’, John introduces himself with the story of his entry into the world as handed down from his mother Lily. Lily is a strong independent figure and indicates to John how special he is by telling him that she named him after ‘the beloved disciple, the brother of James the Great…John was Jesus’ favorite’, my mother told me, ‘The patron saint of printers, tanners and typesetters’.
John is an inner directed lad, not surprising for being an only child, doted on but also held to a tight leash by his mother. So inquisitive is he that in a sort of desperation, Lily brings home a book for him that changes his young worldview.

‘Harper’s Compendium of Bizarre Nature Facts’ – containing loads of facts and figures about lizards and squids and duckbilled platypuses, and a whole chapter on worms entitled ‘The Secret Life of Parasites’.

This becomes John’s bible as it were, and he continues further along this introspective path. He inhabits an imaginary world of myth and shape shifting, taking the form of ‘crow-killer’ but sometimes he sees things from the crow’s view. Tucked between several chapters are small digressions with the crow spirit. His only real human contacts are his mother’s older friend, the intrusive Phyllis Nagle and Harry Farrell, ‘an impudent jack-of-all trades’ with a fondness for the hooch and who is a kind of uncle and godfather to him. He goes to school but the other kids are peripheral to him. That is until Jamey Corboy pops up on the scene.
Jamey seems to be the antithesis of John – aggressive, adventurous and bad to John’s meek, close to home and law abiding sensibility. Each needs a friend so their bond is almost a foregone conclusion. Gradually though, Jamey pulls John into his orbit and before you know it, John is smoking, knocking back the lagers and consorting with felonious characters. Jamey also happens to be an aspiring writer and periodically slips John his work to read. What appears to be errant behavior is really no more than youthful energy channeling itself outwardly – drinking and carousing, but from John’s tightly managed world.
It all goes south one day – after a drinking binge, the two end up in a church where John pretty much loses it, desecrating the interior. In retrospect, it seems more of a breakdown. The cops are involved and in the confusion, Jamey is charged and John has grassed him up. Jamey is remanded to a boys’ home and the two are split. John’s updates on Jamey come from letters or the odd short story Jamey sends him. Curiously, John never writes back. Sometime later, Jamey lights out from the youth home and turns up once more to see John. He knows that John gave him up to the cops but bears him no malice. There is an incident involving some gangster types and then Jamey leaves town for good. At this point, John also has to face the issue of his mother’s declining health.
A fine coming of age story with a few minor quibbles. Murphy is a very good writer but I think this would’ve worked better as a shorter novel or novella. I felt it was a bit too long. I also thought that Jamey was an excellent character and would’ve liked to have seen him developed even more. There were moments when I thought that John, ‘the beloved disciple, the brother of James the Great’, (Jamey?) might actually be two sides of the same person, Jamey reflecting John’s wilder ‘primitif’ side and that John was possibly experiencing a sort of psychological split. Murphy’s depiction of the mother/son relationship between John and Lily was terrific and engaging. In all, I thought it was good work from Peter Murphy and look forward to his future efforts.

© Marc Goldin 
Reproduced with permission
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