I spent a lovely afternoon last week wandering around Stoneybatter, culminating in a visit to Lilliput Press, an independent publisher and bookshop on Sitric Road. Lilliput were in the news news last year when Donal Ryan’s debut novel The Spinning Heart, first published by Lilliput, made the Man Booker shortlist. They seem to be on to another winner with Rob Doyle’s debut Here Are the Young Men, published in June. Within weeks of Irish publication Doyle had landed a deal with Bloomsbury who will be publishing the book in the UK this year and the US in 2015.
Here Are the Young Men is the story of Matthew, Rez, Cocker and Kearney: four friends from Dublin who have just finished the Leaving Cert. and are intent on enjoying their first summer of freedom. They drink, do drugs, roam aimlessly around the city, watch porn, start fights, and hang out with drug dealers and punks who are well past their sell-by date. It seems like the stuff of most young men’s teenage experiences these days, but as the book progresses we see the characters respond to their new freedom in different and sometimes violent and unsettling ways.
The apathy the four have in the face of modern life and the alienation they feel, as well as the spot-on dialogue, is reminiscent at times of Trainspotting. As the violence progresses and one character seems to descend into sociopathy, I was reminded of A Clockwork Orange too. Which isn’t to say that the novel is predictable or derivative; in fact it’s interesting to see this subject matter in an Irish context.
I read the book in an evening, which tells you how well Doyle has paced the book. It becomes increasingly dark in tone and there were a couple of scenes where I actually felt queasy at the prospect of what was going to happen. But there are very funny moments too, such as Matthew’s weekend spent with Scag (not the name his mother gave him, one presumes) seducing two Norwegian tourists, doing drugs and cadging drinks, and eventually having group sex in a hostel.
Here Are the Young Men is an exciting debut and I’m delighted that Rob Doyle has had such success with it so far. I keep saying, it’s a great time for Irish fiction.