By Stephanie King, on 25 May 2016
Continuing on with the UCL Centre for Publishing’s partnership with the Desmond Elliot prize, I will be reviewing one of the three novels shortlisted for the award: The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney.
The Glorious Heresies is told through the stories of five outcasts in modern day Cork, brought together by one crime. The opening chapter launches immediately into the visceral, gritty, and sense-filled descriptions that make McInerney’s writing so enticing. First love and first murder are juxtaposed one right after the other, two matters of the flesh and primal human compulsion weaved together by McInerney’s lyrical, pithy prose; while schoolboy Ryan loses his virginity to the girl he idolizes, Maureen is busy killing a home invader with her Holy Stone. She is then forced to employ her gangster son Jimmy to clean up the scene of the crime, who in turn recruits Tony for help, who happens to be Ryan’s father. Meanwhile, Ryan is dealing drugs to Georgie, the girlfriend of the man Maureen killed, and the web just gets more and more tangled.
And yet none of this feels like coincidence. Perhaps it is the looming presence of the Catholic Church in the story, but it feels as though these people were meant to be brought together, not to save each other or to make each other better, but to rage against the society of, as McInerney puts it, ‘the arse end of Ireland.’ Survival trumps salvation in most of the characters’ situations, so scenes of coke getting snorted off of Bibles does not feel out of place.
It is pointless to try to boil this work down to fit it neatly into one genre; you’d have to bash it in with a Holy Stone to describe it just as a teenage romance, a gangster thriller, or a redemption story. It is all these and more. McInerney’s background in blogging in no way inhibits her ability to tell a well-formed story, and aids her in the creation of punchy sentences that can easily be pulled out of the book and slapped into a tweet. In her personal blog she almost gleefully admits, ‘I’m much better on page than in person. I hate phone calls. I hate meetings. I love emails, tweets and texts. I don’t love letters, because writing anything by hand makes these digital digits feel like they’ve spent an entire victory parade attached to the wrist of Queen Elizabeth II.’ This is the kind of sentiment you can find all throughout the book as well. A personal favourite quote is ‘That was the truth and the truth had fuck all respect for Sir Issac Newton and his axioms.’
Unabashed, loud, tender, sweary, edgy, beautiful, funny, brilliant: The Glorious Heresies is a must-read, and McInerney is a bright new talent on the literary scene that will not be extinguished soon.
The other two shortlisted titles for the 2016 Desmond Elliot Prize are The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester, and Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea. You can check out twitter reviews of these two fabulous novels by fellow cohort members @zoesharples and @HaReIllustrate. The winner of the 2016 Desmond Elliot Prize will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 22nd June, where he or she will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.