BOOK REVIEW / A speedy life with bad brakes: Dixie Chicken - Frank Ronan: Sceptre pounds 9.99

THE golden hero of Frank Ronan's new novel dies on the first couple of pages with the same superficial style and drama that were the hallmarks of his short existence, roaring out of life at full speed in his blue sportscar:

'Rory Dixon's car came down the hill like a blue streak and sailed out over the cliffs in an arc of music. His stereo was playing that song by Little Feat, full blast. The song about Dixie chickens and Tennessee lambs. The black rocks at the foot of the cliff were pointed like church spires, slimy like plastic with the washing of the sea, and one of them skewered the car and held it aloft above the beating water.'

Certainly this is 'the sort of car that adolescents dream of'. But was his death an accident? Is his widow's cry of murder just another symptom of the general craziness that made people wonder why he put up with her for so long? Or was it she, finally, who put up with him? Some long-held certainties are shaken: was Rory as universally adored as all that? Is his whole entourage rotten with guilty knowledge?

Swiftly and uneasily his friends, colleagues and acquaintances start covering up their tracks. Even the local police seem less than innocent. There are suggestions of wheelings and dealings, drugs and orgies, possible involvement in paramilitary rackets. . . Rory's influential friends in the Department of Justice do all in their power to hush up any suspicion of foul play until a second death, unmistakably a gory murder, seems about to send the whole thing crashing down.

Dixie Chicken is less a thriller though than a savage, mocking comment on success, love, sex, religion and stylish living. All the little nastinesses; all the woundings and betrayals; all the little illusions people find to hide behind. Rory's parents are gurus, veterans of the sexual and philosophical revolution but, called back by his death from the shelter of ashram and adoring disciples, they come face to face with their own decrepitude, with the sad knowledge that they are now interchangeable with all the other old people: 'She realized now that there must come a time when age overrides the person, when old people stop being themselves and become the same as each other.'

Frank Ronan won the Irish Times / Aer Lingus award for his first novel, The Men Who Loved Evelyn Cotton. He is one of the new generation of young Irish writers, though it has been said of him that 'he's not Irish in any of the usual ways.' Dixie Chicken is set, rather perfunctorily, in places called Wexford and Dublin, but Ronan has little in common with Molly Keane, Roddy Doyle or anyone up and down the social and national scale in between. He is probably the nearest thing Ireland has to a Martin Amis. And indeed the Ireland we all thought we knew has lately been moving with the speed of Rory's car into Amis-land.

Or into Ronan-land. From that first startling death with the blasting stereo and the damaged brakes one is led compulsively, and often hilariously, through a landscape that includes incest, adolescent despair, drug abuse, suicide fixation, sex killers, corrupt politicians, repulsive old lechers, necrophiliacs, unfrocked priests, corpses dripping blood through the drawing room ceiling into guests' wine glasses - all this described with a sort of cold gusto.

It is necessarily detached, this gusto, because Ronan uses God as his narrator, and God has long since abdicated from any personal involvement with his creatures: 'If you think that the Nine O'Clock News has given you compassion fatigue, then think what these millenia of viewing have done for me.'

This narrator / God is, for most of the book, discreetly self-effacing. On the occasions when he does interrupt the narrative to make a pronouncement or judgement, he can be as ponderously embarrassing as any other god. And coy with it: 'It was the fact that he was born in a cowshed which first drew my attention. There was an echo from the birth of another great charmer in whom I was an interested party.'

One gets used to these little idiosyncrasies: God is, after all, just another character in the novel - I mean, he's not God, for heaven's sake. He watches over his admittedly unpleasant creations with little interest, observes their doings and tragedies and loves and perversions with boredom and occasional titillation. Rory Dixon, born to hippy parents in a converted cowshed, is an exception. Rory is the hero, the great lover, the golden boy, God's favourite in a cast of inadequate, twisted or wounded people (most of them wounded by Rory Dixon).

What was so special about the man? We're repeatedly told that he was beautiful, brilliant, charming, seductive, witty, but we're never actually treated to any great display of these attributes. Dixon and his entourage are curiously two-dimensional, like a collection of very good cardboard cut-outs. At first this looks like Frank Ronan's weakness; as I read on I realised it's his strength: to a distant and disillusioned Creator all humanity must appear to be lacking in a dimension or two. He prefers it like that.

'Do you think for one moment,' says the narrator, 'that if I had had any idea of the future, of this future, that I would have had any truck with the human race at all?' It is as if, after all those millenia watching catastrophes and camps and pogroms and massacres, Ronan's God, created in man's image, is really only turned on by a bit of style. Well, which did we find pleasanter viewing: Rwanda or Wimbledon? The message is that Rory Dixon had style, however superficial, and that's why he was one of the few creatures a late 20th century God could get any sort of a buzz out of.

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
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.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower