I wanted The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (John Murray, 2015) from the moment I saw it on NetGalley. The cover is cool, it has one of the all-time great book titles, and the brief synopsis sounded different to anything else I’ve read this year. The notification that my request to read had been accepted by the publisher was greeted with a “woop” and a fist-pump, my enthusiasm undimmed by the fact that I was alone in the room at the time. I wanted this book. I wanted it badly.
Then came the inevitable fear that I had over-hyped it in my own brain, a fate that has befallen many a book in my long reading career of getting really excited about something and being underwhelmed. Did The Glorious Heresies underwhelm me? No. Don’t ask stupid questions.
McInerney weaves a complex web of interconnected characters and plot-lines, with all the novel’s participants in some way involved in the criminal underworld of Cork. Very early on, near-pensioner Maureen accidentally murders an intruder; her kingpin son, Jimmy, coerces Tony into helping to cover up the murder; Tony’s teenage son, Ryan, is a drug-dealer whose customers include Georgie, an increasingly desperate prostitute. The links between the characters become apparent as the novel progresses, as the plot-lines become ever murkier and the undercurrents more violent.
The style of McInerney’s writing grabbed me from the start, with the imagery never glorifying the activities of the protagonists, despite the title, but not vilifying them either. The dialogue zings off the page and penetrated every part of my brain; I am pretty sure I dreamt in an Irish accent after putting down the book at night. Everything is set against the backdrop of recent Irish history, with religious judgement haunting Maureen and Georgie, in particular. I read The Glorious Heresies within a few weeks of reading Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, and the two books create thought-provoking questions about moral hypocrisy in today’s Ireland (in fairness, much of the critique in both could easily be applied to pretty much anywhere). I seem to have read loads of Ireland-set books recently and discovered the one thing they all have in common is multiple references to something called Taytos. It has always astounded me how literature can give you such a rich insight into an exotic culture.
Maureen wasn’t moving but to bring cigarette to mouth. She stared out across the lawn, serene as a cud-chewing cow. Just the right demeanour for the city’s newest reaper: taking the scythe in her stride. Jimmy hadn’t met many new murderers who weren’t bent double by the aftermath, who didn’t puke on their shoe as an epilogue.
Guilt is a key factor in The Glorious Heresies, almost occupying a place on the character list; equally, the apparent lack of guilt plays an important role. Tony feels guilty about being a terrible parent; Jimmy feels few qualms about exploiting this. Most of the characters here are what one might categorise as “bad people,” but most evoke the reader’s sympathy, even grudgingly, at least once. I found myself despairing rather than disliking the characters, and some of the arcs developed by the end of the novel are masterstrokes in terms of changing the reader’s feelings.
In the same way that I would find it difficult to explain all the reasons that I love my husband (“he is nice”/”he buys me Lego”/”he has not left me despite the fact that I ignore him in order to read”) without resorting to platitudes, I don’t know if I can adequately describe why The Glorious Heresies was such an enjoyable read. The writing is vibrant, visceral and, more often than not, vicious; Lisa McInerney’s style is unique and unapologetically harsh, convincingly profane and unflinching. I loved it. If you know me and I personally recommend to you that you should read this book, you should take this as the highest possible compliment, because it means that I think you have amazing taste and are worthy of remaining within my social sphere. The Glorious Heresies is as insanely, ridiculously cool as I would like to be and as sweaty as I would be if I didn’t spend my life with impressionable young folk.
The Glorious Heresies is published in paperback on December 31st. If you make the excellent decision to buy it, please comment below so we can shriek collectively about how ace it is.