Bloomsbury £12.99

The Holy City, By Patrick McCabe

A more than usually crazy McCabe character hallucinates nine-inch Lulus and fears eggs

Smug old swinger CJ "Pops" McCool has been strutting his stuff in Mood Indigo, rural Cullymore's top nightspot, since the 1960s, when he was "unashamedly the dapper dandy in my crushed-blue-velvet pants and frilly pink nylon shirt". He still enjoys a turn on stage with Vesna, his svelte and seemingly attentive not-quite-wife from Croatia.

Back in his heyday, his suavity had quickly snagged the attention of Dolly McCausland, Cullymore's own transgressive beauty who would dance on the club's tables and flirt with "Mr Wonderful" McCool. However, his youthful summer of love turned distinctly wintry after McCool peered through a Butlins chalet window to see Dolly seductively undressing his pious rival, a theology student who was also Cullymore's sole black resident.

Forty years on, the village has evolved into a Dublin satellite suburb, but McCool, a self-styled "hep cat", has stagnated in the calamitous events of his youth. Filtered into his rosy account of schmoozing are more alarming recollections of his bastard childhood. His father is nominally Dr Henry Thornton, a Protestant so frosty that it's left to a local "Catholic cock" to service desperate Lady Thornton – McCool's hapless mother – in their barn. Banished from the manor and brought up by a daffy tenant on the edge of the estate, McCool eventually finds success as a farmer while tussling with emotional instability and fecund paranoia.

While confined in a psychiatric unit, McCool hallucinates his cosseted step-brother emerging from the brick-sized ventilation grille. He congratulates himself on not being fazed by the sight of a nine-inch Lulu or Herb Alpert – but a tray of eggs beseeching him in a farmers' market sets him off.

For all McCabe's narrative skill at eking McCool's more unhinged episodes out of the smooth narration of his past, The Holy City is not without problems. Quite what the holy city is, for example, is never made clear. At times the phrase refers to a 19th-century anthem, but is also used to suggest the haven of maternal love, sexual congress, faithful love or an ecstatic vision of the new Jerusalem. While this mutable image partly reinforces McCool's erratic grasp of his own personality, it also congests the narrative without obvious benefit – as do McCool's identity anxieties over his "spiritually infirm" rational Protestant and hysterical Catholic genetic make-up.

Previous McCabe novels have worked well by deploying stock-in-trade small-town, disturbed, unreliable characters who engage the reader with an undeniable charm. The Holy City is hampered by McCool's peculiar unreliability, a needy emotional excitability which lies somewhere between the narrators of Nabokov's magnificent Pale Fire (brilliantly, obsessively mad) and John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure (urbanely murderous). Both these novels enjoy a precision of viewpoint that feels absent from the ebb and flow of McCool's fantasies and paranoia.

"Unsustainable levels of emotion, pure and simple," McCool claims to be the root of his problems; but The Holy City struggles more with a vagueness of affliction. Despite a concluding dash of gothic, its protagonist's idiosyncrasies don't give sufficient momentum to the reader to piece together his fragmentary unburdening.

Click here to purchase this book

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks