The book is prefaced by an editorial review.
“Suffice to say I read it spellbound. The novel is perfect, A classic, satisfying love story. Being language driven, the love story itself is transformed into an epic. Regardless of any plot or theme, it’s the voice, the acerbic, relentless observations, the exhilarating metre of sociological dissection, the skewed homecoming poetry of it, the anger and energy and bitterness. It’s superb, every word of it held me enthralled. Making this the fuel of a love story is a supreme achievement. It’s more than the great Irish novel; its very language is dependent on a narrator’s voice corrupted by his wandering in both the physical and written world. You take a scene to its linguistic origins, refract its meanings and create myth, it goes beyond Modernism because the voice is contemporary and so compelling in its delivery.
It’s everything a serious reader would want from a novel. Delighted in the puns, the literary and cultural references, the brilliance of the wit and one liners, the put downs to die for and the absurd and crazy, surprising twists of storyline, from the nun to the house visit, and all the wanderings between, uphill and tower, down town and up trees. You’ve serious and comic themes going off like fireworks in the box; the current state of Ireland, the risk of a wanderer returning to his stifled beginnings, the traumas of going back, the mid-life crisis of a wounded man surrounded by drink and Catholic redundancy. All written with Joycean sensibility but in the language of hand reared bitter. Every sentence a beauty and a beast; the tension tears itself apart amid lyrical totality.
Yes, it’s very Irish too, a pub crawl novel deluxe, and there’s not much in the Irish tradition that isn’t referenced. It’s also a kind of rake’s progress, for bb is not a particularly sympathetic man at all times, often just a woodworker with balls in his brain- a man of book and brothel, bothy and booze. I love the fact that it defies definition, shifting between identities, always surprising, always astonishing. You’ve a word for everything, a phrase for everything. My only explanation to a third party of what the novel is would be to read the whole thing out to them, it’s that big, major. But just as a blistering study of a society it must surely be recognized; the way you paint Ireland as county dick, the sink of porter, a land torn between lonely drunk farmers and city braggarts against a backdrop of superstition and boom and bust. It feels real to me, even though I haven’t been it or seen it from the cobbles myself. So the Irish identity, while special, is saying much more about the state of the world, the male behaviour, its backwardness and lack of insight; the art of self-pity so mightily observed.”
- Reviewer from Writers workshop, England (abbreviated)
A Novel by Brian O’Dowd
Brian O’Dowd’s A Wicklow Girl is a wicked piece of writing. Prefaced by the author’s exhortation … “Caution if you have an overactive imagination. Gratuitous copious bawdy abound” … on first reading it appears to be a conventional love story except that it comes with a twist — “Boy meets girl. Lust at first sight. Romance and roaming. Break up and break down. Aliens again. Alliance again. The end.” In this extravagantly picaresque novel, O’Dowd brilliantly interweaves language and thought together with thematic traditions of his literary forbearers whose protagonists are, albeit, much more demure in public even if unchaste in private. Shakespeare, Hardy, Lawrence, Kipling; Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Housman, Burns, all whose provenance reinforce O’Dowd’s allusions to one of the greatest themes of all literature … redemption of lost love … lurk in this rare menagerie. He explodes myths about interpersonal relationships among universal characters cast in similar roles as Noreen and Brian (the novel’s boy, presumably not the novel’s
author … or is it?), both Irish expats. Amidst this backdrop is the corrupt media, a culture of rednecks, culchies, and clergy, and the “common man” with “hearts of lions and minds of kings.” Here we have a rogue, the mephistophelian whose devilish temper affords both Brians equally crafty and clever, playful and ironic twists and turns. Here we have a woman besieged and tormented by her own beauty, the target of her own desires, her honesty letting Brian down time and again. Its wit, sarcasm, and guile creep up like a dance of monkey kings; its puns reinforce our inadequacies in conventional thought
and word patterns. If AWG were a play it would be a farce; if a movie, an edgy chick flick; if a poem, a skewed, raw romance. But it’s a novel, and as readers we swim through its stream of consciousness sometimes breathless beneath the swells, sometimes bobbing for air in the troughs; we gasp and grasp at the same time, losing and regaining buoyancy where recognition and absolution converge. Overarching the expats’ loss of love is the allegory of Ireland’s loss, a saga of Viking plunder of Irish wealth and women who “return to defeat us with kin, from our own blood, from our blood loss.” The insight of the expat, whether by force or by choice … “Eire’s many points of entry promiscuous old whore, marauders cursed the nation, no wonder Dev wanting dear Eire left alone mired in deep Atlantic. Every rock of ours has seen destruction.” … is the wisdom behind O’Dowd’s lavish writing. While Joycean in language and wit, AWG lacks (fortunately) the complexity of Ulysses and the incomprehensibility of Finnegans Wake.
A brilliant novel. A delightful read.
- John Flood, Secretary of the Benevolent Irish society in Charlottetown, PEI, and President of Penumbra Press.
Mashed potatoes, black pudding with more than a dash of cajun sauce, A Wicklow Girl charts the narrator’s quest for a soul mate that takes him on a roller coaster ride from New Orleans in the sweaty sensual south of the US to the windy wet village of Howth on the eastern Irish seaboard before finding his peace in the rolling green hills of Wicklow county Dublin. The narrator’s voice is mesmerizing, high octane, it drives the novel forward in a compelling and unique way. This is a novel I thoroughly recommend for its universal theme and the sheer poetic beauty of the narrative voice.
- Patrick Ballagh on Amazon.fr
A tour de force. If you read only one Irish novel this year, this is the one to choose. It is a stunning, new voice in Irish literature. The core of the book is a love story told with both tenderness and acerbic wit. The central character is a Dubliner who has lived in Canada for many years. His return to Ireland reminds him of the many reasons why he left. The novel is not, however, another bitter critique of Irish society. Instead, it presents Ireland and, in particular, Dublin and Wicklow, in a comic and affectionate fashion. There is a magic realism at play in the accounts of the main character’s experiences as he visits old loves and familiar haunts in Dublin city. There is also a Joycean echo in the emigrant’s detailed knowledge of the city that he left in the 1970s. The language of the novel is initially challenging but you will quickly get into the rhythm of the prose and begin to laugh and, occasionally, cry at the word play and the wonderful one liners. I rarely re-read novels but this is one which I think would definitely repay a second and a third read as it operates at so many different levels. It is a novel based in Ireland and Dubliners, in particular, will relish the references to familiar places and the very amusing descriptions of the habitat of the locals. But this is also a universal novel as it explores the dilemma of the emigrant and a man aware of his own faults in pursuit of a contented love life. It is one that will surely stand the test of time.
- ‘Frank’ on Amazon.co.uk