Sad streets where life is a gas

the miracle shed Philip MacCann Faber £8.99

Philip MacCann is an energetic and disconcertingly acerbic writer. A trenchant critic of Irish nationalism, he has written scathingly of the failure of many contemporary Irish writers to see beyond their own local identities and introverted anxieties. A Dubliner, he thinks Ireland's Celtic tradition tends away from individuality: "expression is more often that of race consciousness, at worst songful patriotism". So what of his own fictional debut?

Certainly, MacCann cannot be accused of provincialism. The individual stories that comprise The Miracle Shed may be set principally in shadowy, depressed areas of Dublin and Belfast, yet they are not about Ireland; geographical location is the least important thing about them. The Troubles are but a muffled echo, and this Irish earth is never shaken by an exploding bomb. Urban Ireland, with its monstrous high-rises and sprawling council estates, is simply the grimy backdrop to the characters' daily struggles. In "Love Marks", the change of location to London does not signal a change of theme: we could still be in Belfast or Dublin. For MacCann writes exclusively of the poor, the dispossessed and the chronically disturbed: people w ho know nothing but illness, futile striving, debauchery and self-abuse.

United in their common misery, these inner city lives transcend national boundaries: the wearied protagonists speak across the stories with one voice - how solemn and sorrowful it is; but also how human. MacCann constantly strives to find tenderness in suffering and harmony in extremity.

In "Grey Area", for instance, a pubescent boy is taken to a decaying high-rise where he is fondled gleefully by a cunning paedophile. They scarcely communicate, but as the boy ejaculates the man praises him, confessing his love for the boy, even though they have only just met. He lifts the boy and gently cuddles him. We are suddenly moved by the paedophile's plight, finding it within ourselves, in spite of ourselves, to pity him. Similarly, in "Harvester"- a remorselessly repetitive Samuel Beckett pastiche - we listen urgently to the intenal monologue of a disabled pensioner as he struggles to empty rubbish from his flat. The unnamed man is lugubrious and self-pitying; yet he is also capable of love, dreaming endlessly of the young woman who will soon visit the flat to comfort him. We know she will never arrive, but this does not stop us sharing the old man's febrile thoughts and sexual stirrings.

This is fine and powerful new writing. Yet the most impressive stories, such as "Tender" and "Naturally Strange", go further, employing sharp observation and exact dialogue to squeeze a grim humour from even the most hopeless situations. "Tender" is about two jobless pals who spend their afternoons swallowing gas for kicks. Surrounded by slums and begging children and sustained by gas-fuelled fantasies, they sink voluptuously into inertia, prompting the narrator to conclude: "This is where I belong, I t hink: in gas, outside of everything, in nowhere".

"Naturally Strange" is marvellously odd. A raging teenager, dreaming of sex, shares a bed with his pregnant mother in a cramped bedsit. Penniless and luckless, the woman longs for an abortion. She eventually visits a seedy back-street clinic, only to be attacked by a small dog. A scene of sombre suffering is transformed as the woman flees the clinic determined to keep her baby.

As with the stories of Will Self, it is possible to accuse MacCannn of pessimistically exaggerating life's potential for misery, and also of being obsessively preoccupied with deviance and obscenity. Equally, and more damagingly, one can accuse him of being a writer of only one tone: a furious morbidity. In anthologies his originality dazzles; read collectively the stories now seem to overlap and merge too easily, weakening the initial force of his nihilism. But MacCann is a writer with ambition and a sad, sinister style that ought to be widely known.

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam