Here are the Young Men by Rob Doyle, an exciting first novel set in Dublin.
“Here are the Young Men surges forward, oozing edginess, from the very first sentence. Is that a bad thing? Probably not. It just means that readers may at times slip out of the story, feel themselves taking a step back and admiring the spare coolness of the novel before easing back into the narrative.
The characters, teenage boys who are awaiting the results of their Leaving Cert, feel alienated. They take drugs and walk the streets of Dublin during the Celtic Tiger boom years. The novel shines an interesting light on this recent period in Ireland’s history. In fact, viewing it from a teenage perspective is effective – everyone else seems gripped by the country’s newly found riches, living the moment and unable to see its negative aspects. The city’s wealth is obvious, flaunted in the trendy haircut of a young woman or in the impregnable gates encircling Bono’s mansion. In contrast, the young men’s dejection and aimlessness make them seem wiser than their countrymen…”
Honeyville by Daisy Waugh.
“Honeyville is like a glass of champagne: light, sparkling and impossible to put down. Daisy Waugh excels at immersing the reader in a historical era, a skill she has displayed before in Last Dance with Valentino and the Melting the Snow on Hester Street.
The story is told by Dora Whitworth, a call girl in one of the most exclusive brothels in Trinidad, Colorado. At the time, the town was the only place in the West where prostitution was legal and it was infamous for its red-light district. Dora’s voice rings true and her life is convincingly described. The sumptuous brothel in Plum Street, with its smells of perfume and disinfectant, is as claustrophobic as a prison and Phoebe, the madam, particularly chilling.
Dora becomes friends with Inez, a younger woman from a wealthy local family. The friendship would be unlikely in normal circumstances. The town is owned by men and they’ve managed to keep their women separate, with the marrying type living alongside the ‘fallen women’ but both sets divided by an invisible barrier. But this is the start of tumultuous times. The union is urging the miners to strike, pitting them against the mining company and the town’s rich owners. Lawlessness takes over. This will result in the Ludlow massacre of 1914, the tragedy which inspired the novel.
There is something thrilling about novels set amid traumatic historic moments. Graham Greene did it and so did Ronan Bennett in The Catastrophist, in which Patrice Lumumba’s Congo is the backdrop to a hopeless love story. It should be wrong to use history in such a way but nothing beats the atmosphere it creates or the political and ideological questions which arise as a result. Waugh, in an after note, says she was annoyed at how biased journalist Max Eastman was when reporting from Trinidad (Eastman plays an important role in the novel, too). A socialist, he denounced Trinidad’s elite for its attitude to the miners. Waugh’s own belief that things are never as black and white comes across in her narrative.
Also, placing characters in such troubled times enables the writer to reveal unexpected facets of their personalities as they react to extraordinary events. Here, the story rests on a strong cast of characters. Each has a set of qualities and foibles which brings them vividly alive. Dora is a worldly narrator. Hers has been a hard life but she is neither petty nor bitter; she appears to be de-sensitised and it is a pleasure to witness her starting to feel again as a result of her new friendship.
Indeed, friendship is an important theme in Honeyville – the meeting between the two women is shown as a precious, fragile occurrence. Love, or lust, on the other hand, is depicted as an overwhelming force, impossible to resist. The sexual chemistry between the exquisite Inez and tough union man Lawrence O’Neill jumps out of the page and makes the ensuing mystery all the more credible. The plot, spanning twenty years, is both subtle and solid and readers will be rewarded with a satisfying ending.“