The Swing of Things by Sean O'Reilly

Hell on the streets of Dublin
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The Independent Culture

The central character of Sean O'Reilly's high-pressure but hard-to-stomach novel is a driven and rebarbative individual named Noel Boyle. Boyle, from Derry, is in Dublin trying to put his paramilitary past and prison sentence behind him by attaching himself half-heartedly to a degree course, working at a telephone call shop and drifting in and out of the company of the ne'er-do-wells who throng the streets. The image of a drowned girl, probably an illegal immigrant, whose corpse has been retrieved from the Liffey, keeps resurfacing as the darkness of corruption and incoherence closes around him.

In Boyle's past are a bungled IRA operation, the fear of retaliation, a pair of useless parents and a best mate called Dainty. In the present, Boyle is the object of amorous admiration by a dewy-eyed fellow student, victim of violent impulses and prop of a psychotic street-performer called Fada.

The action exemplifies what Martin Amis has called "the obscenification of everyday life". It takes place among the fetid odours of vomit, craziness and desperation. It moves in a drug-fuelled miasma through various scenes from hell. The busker Fada plays a prominent role, whether lying, beaten up, on the floor of a club toilet or slithering through an orgy in Phoenix Park, while Boyle fails to make good his self-regeneration.

This novel, with its hideous hallucinatory states, its misery and futility, catches the authentic tones of derangement and disaffection. It creates its own undeniably powerful universe; but it is a universe one might hesitate to be immersed in.

Patricia Craig's biography of Brian Moore is published by Bloomsbury