Bare-faced cheek

Patricia Craig reads a boys' own story of souped-up shenanigans; The Cove Shivering Club Michael Curtin Fourth Estate, pounds 8.99

This is a very Irish novel: it's obsessive, inflated, cliquish, and keeps its women on the sidelines. Narrated by Junior Rash (Junior? What kind of an Irish name is Junior?), it is all about male competitiveness and camaraderie, full of coded repartee and abundant in minor characters with monikers like Budge and Butch and Batsy and Kerr the Cop. It's a bit self-reflexive too. The narrator is a comic novelist based in Kensal Rise, author of such works as Hand Me Down and The Second-hand Wardrobe (Michael Curtin has written The Self-Made Men and The Plastic Tomato Cutter) though he spends a lot of time back in the west of Ireland carrying on with his old swimming mates: the Cove Shivering Club.

To join this virile body (men only, of course) you need to swim "bollock- naked" back and forth across the bay on a Good Friday, when the water is best described as "fresh". This feat is duly performed by Junior and his friend Dunstan Tucker, both aged ten, in 1955 - and a subsequent childhood disappointment, the failure of his father to raise the money for a week at the Seaside, warps Dunstan and leaves him with a mission in life: to get the better of banks. Dunstan's demented and convoluted financial dealings, and a Shivering Club presedential election, form the substance of Michael Curtin's plot.

The novel comes with an accolade from Roddy Doyle ("sparkling and hilarious"), and indeed it has something of Doyle's own gusto and demotic charm, laid on thick. However, it is likely that only those whose taste runs to masculine knowingness, endearing pugnacity or souped-up shenanigans, will get the most out of it. For the rest of us, I suspect, an element of tiresomeness may obstruct the fullest appreciation of its attitudes and antics. For example, the central financial idee fixe and its workings-out become increasingly over-elaborate.

And what are we to make of Junior's one-time schoolmaster, a Brother Chunkey, who first of all confesses to having had the hand of a cleaning woman up his soutane, and then goes on to clobber a pub singer in nun's garb calling herself Baptista and the Virgins? Perhaps the point is that there are no virgins in this act, just as the ex-Christian Brother himself embodies certain social upheavals in Irish life over the last 40-odd years - though what hasn't changed, it seems, is Irishmen's inability to embrace egalitarianism readily. Sexual appraisal, for example, still gets itself expressed in atrocious colloquialisms - "a terrific pair of diddies...would put a stalk on a dead Dominican".

The thing is to be as racy and incorrigible as possible. With The Cove Shivering Club, it's true, the narrator's ironic distance - all those "kids trying to be men and men hanging on to childhood", as he describes himself and his Swimming Club associates - helps to temper the endless knockabout loquacity, which threatens to become overwhelming, what with London-Irish, pub frequenters' and native barmen's palaver. And there are moments when salutary fun is poked at such importations from the modern world as the Social Services Centre. What is overwhelming, though, is the orgy of cordiality which brings things to a close, with all fighting talk erased and apparent betrayals of friendship overturned. While you can't accuse the novel of displaying insufficient boldness, fluency or exuberance, you might, with justice, question its sharpness or discrimination. It doesn't lack a kind of rumbustious appeal - but, as with all clubs and coteries, this appeal is ultimately limited.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor