My rating: 4 stars
In The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney uses a murder as a pretext to delve into dysfunctional families and the tribulations faced by various characters whose lives are far from easy. Throughout the novel, we are given an insightful look into the darkest sides of Cork, where the story takes place. Ireland’s religiosity, drug dealing and the need to resort to prostitution are some of the themes focused on, as the characters’ lives become intertwined and spiral somewhat out of their control.
The first main character we are introduced to is fifteen-year-old Ryan. He has a girlfriend, Karine D’Arcy, whom he took to his home to have sex with. He lived there with his father and five siblings, but they were away at the time. His mother had died some years previously. I really liked how we are not told right away what was happening. Instead readers are gradually shown the interactions between the two teenagers until what they were up to makes perfect sense. The same technique is used throughout the book in various occasions.
Ryan’s path crossed with those of the other characters in consequence of a murder. Maureen, a 59-year-old woman, unintentionally killed a man, whom she found inside her house. As she needed to get rid of the body, she contacted her estranged son, Jimmy. He was the most feared gangster in Cork. Although Maureen was the one who gave birth to him, he wasn’t raised by her but by his grandparents. He once went looking for Maureen in London and took her back home to Ireland.
Jimmy bumped into his old friend Tony, who needed money, and took the opportunity to recruit him to assist in the removal of the dead man’s body. He then presented the possibility of getting him other jobs. He could need help carrying a piano, since his ex-wife wanted one for their children. Tony mentioned that he had one he didn’t need anymore. That was the same piano that Karine wanted Ryan to play when they were alone at his home early on in the book.
The absence of the man that Maureen killed didn’t go unnoticed. Georgie didn’t know where her boyfriend Robbie was. They had met when she was 15 and he was 22 years old. She was then a runaway who was into drugs, and he invited her to stay with him. She said yes and, in the process, got a pass into the world of prostitution. Since she was looking for a new drug dealer, Tara Duane recommended her Ryan.
The story is largely told from the perspectives of the five main characters (Ryan, Tony, Maureen, Jimmy and Georgie) in the third person. But some pages were also fictionally written by Ryan in the first person. In this way, we get to know both their views on the main events and more information about their pasts. Early on, I wondered how the people first introduced could possibly be connected. I needn’t have to worry. Quite soon we are made aware of the reasons why their paths are intertwined and are left wondering where their actions led. The way in which people’s lives are linked guarantees that their mistakes can easily and powerfully influence the future of others as well.
“The frame around which one builds one’s life is a brittle thing, and in a city of souls connected one snapped beam can threaten the spikes and shadows of the skyline.”
Almost all of the characters are complex and feel authentic. I kept worrying about Ryan in particular. The only exception to that genuineness is Jimmy. I was not fully convinced by his threats. He was not as menacing as he should have been to make me believe that the other characters were truly in peril because of his intimidations. They were, most of all, in danger from themselves.
The most recent actions of the characters had consequences on their mental well-being. That is true not only for Ryan, but also for Tony and Maureen. Ryan was not acting according to his true potential because of all the economic and emotional troubles he had to endure, including his father hitting him. But their pasts are also critical to understand how they ended up where they were. Some of the issues they faced could have been further delved into. The book would have to be longer, though, since it focuses on a large group of people.
Ireland’s religiosity affected the life of some of the characters. The Church is noticeably criticised because of the shaming of women and its aim of creating devout people in order to achieve power. There are also mentions of what happened to unmarried women who got pregnant in the 70s. They were forced to work at the “laundries”, their children were taken away from them and many ended up dying there.
“How much healing did a fallen woman required, if she had the whole of Ireland’s fucked up psyche weighing her down to purgatory?”
Despite all of the harshness in the lives of the characters, The Glorious Heresies is quite effortlessly funny at times. This is one of the reasons why I want to read its follow-up, The Blood Miracles. I am also eager to know what the future held mainly for Ryan and Maureen, thanks to the last paragraphs.