The picture on the front cover, depicting a young man in red swimming trunks gazing into a swimming pool, doesn't prepare you for the horror that awaits you from the very first pages. After a boozy night out, a young Dublin rugby player is killed during a drunken brawl with a number of his fellow students, including some of his close childhood school friends. The narrative is so abrupt, it's totally chilling :
"One August night in Dublin, Conor Harris was killed by three kicks to the head.
The problem is, if this is where the book starts, where can it go from here ? Well, the answer is back and forth, from the trials to the hours before the fatal punch-up and beyond, to the different actors' formative years as schoolboys, trying to work out what caused the fatal clash. A lot is made of the fact that these are rich kids gone bad, from the city's wealthy Catholic public schools. The author throws up a lot of aggravating factors - alcohol, girl trouble, a sense of superiority because they come from the privileged areas/schools, the current trend of binge drinking, laddish pranks ... - but it all remains very hypothetical as nobody - not even those who delivered the fatal blows - really knows what caused it all or why it went so far.
The book is an interesting look at how things can spiral out of control and gives some insight into the upper classes of Dublin and their private schools, but it all remained a bit wooly and hypothetical for my liking. At the end of the book, we're still not really any closer to understanding exactly what happened or why - but that is probably exactly what the author is trying to show.
The book caused some controversy at its release as it seems to be very close to a real life story (see here) but the author says he didn't research this case when writing his book, despite the blurb at the front of the book saying that it is based on true events. It's a difficult read, not only because of the graphic detail of the descriptions of the fight, but because the narrative leads you to condemn just about everyone, from the assailants to the girlfriends, parents, teachers and even the judge. But the fact that the author can make you feel this uncomfortable shows that he is a talented writer.
It's an interesting read but it's a bit bleak and depressing for the run up to Christmas, and anyone who has ever been witness to or involved in a drunken brawl - let alone the one that this novel is based on - will find it tough-going.
star rating : 3.5/5
RRP : £7.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books (8 July 2010)
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