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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas