The Good Son by Paul McVeigh
It seems like a lifetime since Rebel Voice reviewed a book by an Irish author. The Good Son was worth the wait.
Micky Donnelly lives in Ardoyne, in north Belfast, during the period when the Provisional IRA were at war with the forces of British colonialism. He has just finished primary school and is apprehensive about going to St. Gabe’s, described to him as the most dangerous school in Ireland.
But student life is not young Mickey’s only concern. He doesn’t fit in with the lads from his area. He prefers to play with the girls. He feels that he is in love with Martine but yet his willy does strange things whenever he is around boys he likes. The unfortunate Mickey is also effeminate, in an area and in a time when such characteristics are akin to painting a brightly coloured bullseye on your forehead.
To add to Master Donnelly’s woes, his father is a gambler and drunk who regularly beats his long suffering mother. His older brother, Paddy, is playing footsie with the IRA, his community is surrounded by the dreaded ‘prods’ who will kill him if they get half a chance, and his only real friend is his little sister ‘wee Maggie’ who can’t always defend him from the neighbourhood taunts. Phew! Who would want to be Mickey Donnelly?
The Good Son is a true gem. It is not heavy, complex, long or boring. It charts the coming of age summer of a young boy who may be gay or perhaps even bi-sexual in an era where he would become an outcast. Wartime Belfast was a tough place and there was little room for delicate sensitivities.
I can’t state just how beautifully written this book is. It is tender, rough, raw, insightful and extremely funny. The pace of Mickey’s life is relentless. There are passages that might draw a tear of laughter, and passages that might draw a tear of sadness. It’s that kind of book.
The author is a Belfast man and writes as someone who knows, intimately, his subject matter. No one else could relate this story with such confidence. The Good Son is his first novel. We can hope for, and expect, great things in future from Paul McVeigh.
As Mickey stumbles through his last summer before adolescence, he dreams of escaping his confines to the United States, taking his mother and wee Maggie with him. He tries desperately to help his mum whenever possible but, being a child still, is prone to the occasional calamity. The scenes where Mickey is determined to protect his mother from his nasty father are heartwarming and heartrending.
Add to the mix the gun battles and bombs, the glue-sniffers and riots, the RUC raids and bin lid community warning system, the need to find out what ‘lumbering’ means, and the constant harassment from big bitch Briege McAnally whose da is in the IRA but got caught stealing a pound of sausages whilst on an operation, and you could be forgiven for wondering if Mickey will see his new school at all. To top it all off, Mickey is also incredibly smart, yet one more thing that draws unwanted attention to him from those who have knuckles dragging carelessly upon the ground. Poor Mickey.
Rebel Voice advises anyone who wants to better understand Belfast to read this book. It provides an introduction to a people much maligned and misunderstood. It allows us to get a glimpse of life in a Nationalist/Republican community at a time when life was really tough. The humour in this book is a true reflection of the humour to be found among the good people of Belfast. The Good Son is a worthy novel in representing the second largest city in Ireland. It will also make you laugh, a lot.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Highly recommended. Please note, the word ‘nigh’, used in the novel a lot, is how Belfast people pronounce the word ‘now’, and ‘sake’ is short for either ‘for fuck’s sake’ or ‘for God’s sake’. Forewarned is forearmed.