Call Me The Breeze by Patrick McCabe

Surviving on the excesses of life
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The Independent Culture

Patrick Mccabe's new novel has all the hallmarks of his earlier works. It is violent, comic, grotesque and sad. In his last book, Emerald Germs of Ireland, we never know whether the protagonist killed his mother, or imagined the whole thing in a drunken stupor while fantasising about being a pop star.

With Joseph Mary Tallon in Call Me The Breeze, McCabe takes the idea of the unreliable narrator a step further: 16 and a half stone, with one eye, your man is continually reinventing himself from author to film director to political candidate. Occasionally we glimpse him through the eyes of others - either laughing at him or gob-smacked at his latest venture.

Whether consuming meat pies, drink or drugs, Tallon does things to excess. He lives in an Irish border town during the sectarian horrors of the 1970s. It's one way of surviving. But Tallon dreams of being reborn, finding somewhere that feels like home. And he believes it is possible when he becomes fixated on a girl who looks like Joni Mitchell. The novel follows Tallon through 30 years - the books, music and films he refers to are an index of his personal Zeitgeist. In the Seventies Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf is his bible. When Tallon is not trying to understand why Charles Manson went wrong, he's quoting 10cc and seeing himself as a Celtic Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver.

While in jail - for abducting Joni's reluctant doppelgänger - Tallon directs plays, pores over theatre manuals and listens to U2. Later, he churns out screenplays while genning up on Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa. Up for election, he name-drops Machiavelli's The Prince. When he starts on Gogol's The Nose, he must be heading for trouble. Fantasy and mental disintegration go hand in hand in McCabe's fiction.

Tallon tells his story through memos, drug-fuelled musings, film treatments and excerpts from his novel, Doughboy. Such stream of consciousness can feel rambling and Tallon's manic narrative grabs you by the throat.

What made McCabe's The Butcher Boy so good was its freshness and its roguish young hero, Francie. Tallon shares several traits with him; he is vulnerable and pathetically optimistic. But unlike Francie, Tallon isn't loveable enough.

Despite the black comedy of inflatable sex dolls and lisping tinkers, Call Me The Breeze is a serious book. Tallon wants to make the community face its complicity in past atrocities and envisages building a memorial to remember those murdered. It will be a purgation, a rebirth. Unfortunately, not everyone is keen. The sadistic local Provos have already rebirthed themselves as councillors and businessmen, but they still live by intimidation and violence. Some things never change.

Call Me The Breeze takes a poke at the creative business: the film magnates who don't return calls, the publishers who love your book for all the wrong reasons. McCabe has been more successful with a string of absurd and funny books. Call Me The Breeze has its moments, but is not one of his best.