Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fiction: The Brothers’ Lot by Kevin Holohan

While the world hardly seems in need of still more intense Irish literature that wallows in trenchant self-observation, The Brothers’ Lot (Akashic) manages to offer something both new and interesting to a literary avenue I thought I’d tired of long ago.

Debut novelist Kevin Holohan manages a tone that is at once darkly sweet and murderously angry. If that sounds like a fine line, you’re close. But Holohan’s deep talent is the reason we can even begin to care about the story he’s chosen to share here: a look sometimes too deep inside a down-at-the-heel Dublin-based Catholic boy’s school.

You don’t expect to find much levity in a novel where the main themes revolve around various forms of child abuse, including sexual, yet Holohan manages this quite well. More than well, actually. In his skillful hands, humor becomes the tool that makes the abuse the boy’s endure even more horrible.

Holohan’s prose is spare, poetic and sharp, while his dialogue is colored entirely by the low rent Dublin he brings so close. Here, at the very beginning of the book, we see mad, doomed Brother Boland waking from a dream:
His slippers made a dead fish sound on the highly polished wooden floor as he tiptoed along. The half-light from the street slid through the windows and cast shadows everywhere, From his perch in the return of the stairs, Venerable Saorseach O’Rahilly, the founder of the Brotherhood, seemed to cower uncertainly back into the shadows, so unlike his stern, disciplinarian, daylight demeanor. Brother Boland nodded and blessed himself as he passed the statue and wisped down the stairs to the ground floor like a tattered black fog with the shakes.
The Brothers’ Lot is unforgettable. It juxtaposes the horrors of a corrupt, archaic system against the beautiful resilience of youth. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.



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