Lisa McInerney’s first novel was a foul-mouthed romp of a book, off-its-tits — to use the parlance — on sex, drugs and occasional piano music played by rakish teenage bad-boy Ryan Cusack. In The Glorious Heresies we saw the half-Irish, half-Italian Cusack brush up against the criminal underworld while hauling himself out of Ireland’s sink estate poverty.
That book was one of 2016’s literary sensations, winning effusive critical acclaim and a clutch of awards. Ireland had apparently found its Irvine Welsh in McInerney, who gave graphic life to the dark side of County Cork.
How does a novelist follow that rock ’n’ roll success? With more of the same, it turns out. The Blood Miracles features Cusack a few years on, now aged 20, getting further embroiled with mobsters. The first 20 pages recap the plot of the last book and beyond that we find the same characters still up to no good.
Now though, the criminal stakes for Ryan are far higher: he goes to Naples and deals with the Camorra. Purer MDMA makes it way to Ireland through the Mafia pipeline: “the pills are tearing up dance floors, house parties and beach raves all over Ireland”. With the drugs come guns, bigger, scarier violence and the classic march through abandoned woodland for summary executions of those who disobey or betray.
McInerney is now doing Trainspotting spliced with Goodfellas, with maybe too much of the latter, so that it falls foul to the same charge of glorifying criminality.
But to give The Blood Miracles its due, this sequel reads like a refined version of the first book. The prose here is not as mind-scrambling or frenetic. McInerney is brilliant at colloquial dialogue and she knows her characters inside out. There are some good riffs between council estate Ryan and his posh new “doll” Natalie which tease out class antipathies, alongside observational moments which sees “the tribes in town, hipster baristas and skinny suits…” popping up alongside “Cork’s damage” — the alcoholic and homeless underclass.
Again, McInerney proves that she is adept at writing eye-watering sex scenes that show uncanny insight into male sexual desire: “She made me go bam! All over my body. All the time.” Women’s desire is less explored. In fact, it is mystifying how so many women in McInerney’s world are drawn to a bad boy with Italian blood, especially when Ryan seems to have neither brawn nor blarney — he is effortless sexy, especially to his on-off girlfriend, Karine.
More problematic is the lack of a journey for the characters. Ryan does not seem any wiser than his younger self of the former novel. Karine dumps him but keeps going back on her word. No one changes. In the final few pages, the plot is left open and unresolved. Could McInerney be setting up for a third in the series?
The comparison with Welsh is apt, for good and for bad. McInerney writes with delicious irreverence and her fiction in this book has a fast, filmic quality. But she might learn from Trainspotting and its subsequent spin-offs that if the same story is repeated too often, it becomes less, not more, than it was.
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