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Montpelier Parade, Karl Geary

By Helena McNish, on 4 May 2017

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2017

Karl Geary’s debut novel is a bittersweet tale of love and hardship. Geary delicately explores the divisions between young and old, working-class and well-off, and, heartbreakingly, the division between dreams and reality that further widens as the novel progresses.

The novel follows the first love and subsequent coming-of-age of Sonny Knolls, a teenage boy from a poverty-stricken area of Dublin, as he navigates between the overbearing knowledge of life as he knows it and his desire to escape. Attending school, working for the local butcher and sometimes helping his father with construction work, Sonny feels a sense of futility in the routine. He is emotionally estranged from his family, observing the terse relationship between his mother and father, and seemingly tired by it.

Whilst helping his father build a wall for a house on Montpelier Parade one Saturday, Sonny meets Vera, and everything changes. He is immediately infatuated with her, finding her different to any other woman he knows, and each room in her house opens his eyes to how much more there is in the world. Where bitter and strained conversations fill the Knolls household, Vera’s house acts as a sanctuary for him. Both Sonny and Vera find themselves gravitating towards each other, and a strange, yet tender relationship is formed between them.

Geary lets the story unfold in moments, both vulnerable and crude, as Sonny tries to understand his feelings towards the people in his life. His feelings constantly lead him back to Vera, endeavouring to know more about her and to make her life happier as well. Vera herself is never fully explained to us. At times this can be frustrating, as her inner life and past is only hinted by what Sonny observes and we infer from that. However, as the story is told in second person, this love affair is always centred from Sonny’s viewpoint. This use of second person poignantly relates what Sonny experiences, and his dreams for something beyond the backstreets of Dublin. It also makes us sympathetic to the bewildering sense of confusion that ultimately stems from his relationship with Vera.

Beautiful imagery is littered throughout this novel, starting early on when a customer is hit by a car. Geary masterfully renders the moment Sonny steps out of the shop to see the man’s body on the tarmac. Sonny hears people converse around him, noting the flashing blue lights of a police car as it approaches, and ‘all the while under Mr Cosgrove’s head a blood pillow, rich and dark and thick, ebbed slowly from unseen crack’.

Geary’s debut novel is well-written, easily devoured within one sitting, and consists of prose which will haunt the reader for days afterwards.

Sara Zo

Montpelier Parade is published by Harvill Secker