Order for £10.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Gamal, By Ciarán Collins. Bloomsbury Circus, £12.99
Tuesday 02 July 2013
"Once upon a time," begins Ciarán Collins' debut novel, "there were two lovers called Sinéad and James." She is a local girl from a poor Catholic family where her home life is troubled and her parents abusive, while James is the son of a well-off Protestant couple who move to the area to renovate an old castle.
From the moment they first meet in primary school, Sinéad and James are destined to be together, but, as in all tales of star-crossed lovers, love also breeds jealousy and hate, and fairy-tale can turn to tragedy. Scratch the surface of the small town where they live and sectarian grievances are still bubbling away. Not everyone believes their story should end happily ever after.
Our narrator is 25-five year-old Charlie, the "gam" or "gamal" (taken from the old Irish word Gamalóg to mean a simpleton or fool): Sinéad and James's classmate, friend and confidant. When the novel opens we know there's been a death or deaths, a court trial, and that Charlie is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but we don't know the facts of the case. His psychiatrist has told him to write his story, but Charlie's not doing it for therapy; he's hoping to make enough money to get out of Ballyronan, the (fictional) Irish village where the action unfolds.
Because he's the gamal, people don't pay much attention to him. But he pays attention to them, noticing the "small things", and so should we. Charlie, however, is both a reticent – his is a book for people who, like him, "hate reading"; he draws pictures rather than describe things – and an unreliable narrator. He presents the facts in the "wrong order", and keeps certain secrets. In one way or other, Charlie's story is a confession, but what exactly he's guilty of is left up to the reader to decide. Reading The Gamal is indeed part-jigsaw puzzle, a process of piecing the various clues together, but it's a richer experience for it.
Charlie holds his own against any precocious child narrator, and Collins's brave decision to end his novel with questions left unanswered is brilliantly confident. Genuinely heartbreaking in parts, The Gamal is a gritty, modern Romeo and Juliet told by a compelling and original voice.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What if 35 Palestinians had died, and 800 Israelis?
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 4 'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
- 5 Ross Burden dead: MasterChef and Ready Steady Cook star dies at age 45 after suffering from cancer
Led Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Freddie Prinze Jr on 24: 'Kiefer Sutherland was the most unprofessional dude in the world – I hated every moment of it'
50 best running songs: From Avicii and Pharrell Williams to the classic 'Eye of the Tiger'
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies trailer unveiled at Comic-Con
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
- < Previous
- Next >