Chilly waters run shallow

THE COVE SHIVERING CLUB by Michael Curtin Fourth Estate pounds 8.99

For the boys who pass the initiation test of swimming across an Irish bay on Good Friday 1955, joining the Cove Shivering Club is a step closer to manhood. The Club has two rules: no women and no pissing in the water. Years later, its members reunite to save the cove from losing its men-only status at a forthcoming presidential election.

Michael Curtin's fifth "comic novel" is the story of this fight, narrated by the Club's most mediocre member, Junior Nash. A novelist now living in London, Nash is co-opted by Dessie Dennison, the lordly fixer who is leading the no-women campaign. While Nash scurries round at Dessie's bidding, elaborately fixing votes, we quickly realise that the outcome of the election is not the point. What matters is the sense of mission, the joys of scheming, the camaraderie, the crack.

The book is most interesting in its depiction of the economy that exists between these men, with its delicate balance of childhood loyalty and professional expedience. Dessie is the affluent one, owning a string of pubs in London as well as holiday homes near the cove. He is manipulative and generous in equal measure. Nash spends much of his time rescuing Dunstan Tucker from financial ruin. Tucker has been obsessed with cheating money out of banks since his father was humiliated by the refusal of a loan.

These men are of the "first generation of our class who could take a secondary education for granted and the last for whom a secondary education would be enough ... The last to receive religious instruction ... the first to lose the faith almost en masse". Such promising tensions remain undeveloped in a novel which, under the guise of being funny, is lazily superficial.

Curtin indulges Nash in opportunities to display his dull logic and dull wit. The seediest kind of pub bore, Nash makes clumsy swipes at Europe, gays, smoking bans, modern art, and above all "the seditious shite that has birds not knowing what to think or how to behave any more ..." A posturing gallant, he glories in his own slobbery and sexual frustration. His offensiveness is not in itself a problem; mean-minded anti-heroes can be used to comic or tragic effect - but they have to be interesting, and Nash is not.

Nash lets other people take the risk of having a life. He has a vicarious interest in Dunstan's marriage and family, but he ventures nothing of himself in dramas which he then recounts as if he had played a central part. Beside him, the inscrutable Dessie and the volatile Dunstan retain some interest. There is also Harry Lamb, an eccentric impresario who lives with his mother and gets acts like Baptista and the Blessed Virgins into Dessie's pubs in return for his vote. Otherwise Curtin dishes up the standard caricatures of silent heavy, talkative barman and mad monk.

For biting Irish comedy try Flann O'Brien; for a passionate account of swimming, read Charles Sprawson's Haunts of the Black Masseur. The Cove Shivering Club suggests it will offer something of both but delivers little of either.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • 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.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions