Sour – Book Review by Cormac Fitzgerald
Writer: Alan Walsh
Published by: Pillar International Publishing
Sour is a wild, untethered tale of modern Irish mythology. An adventure set deep in the midlands, packed to the brim with characters from old Irish tales of folklore and magic. It is dark, occasionally depressing, sometimes hilarious and almost always over the top. Unfortunately, what is a great concept doesn’t reach its full potential, bogged down with convoluted storytelling and a too many characters. Still, it is an interesting and ambitious debut from writer Alan Walsh with some moments of brilliance, but that never quite reaches the lofty heights it is aiming for.
It is a modern day retelling of Deirdre of the Sorrows, an old Celtic folklore story about a beautiful young woman named Deirdre, whose beauty is foretold to lead to the deaths of many men.
In this version, Deirdre (or Dee) is a fiery young teenager with a dirty mouth who spends her days locked up in her room by her mean adopted father in the small rural town of Bally. One day, however, she escapes with local boy Cormac Mac Neassa and his younger brother, the paper boy Declan, and the three try to flee.
A local old, curmudgeonly drunkard called Conall Donoghue (the real hero of the piece) takes issues with the fact that his paper isn’t delivered one morning and sets out with his dog Red Bob on a wild, frenzied adventure through the countryside to find the three teenagers. To add one more layer to the story, the entire thing is narrated by a Púca – a magical creature from Irish folklore – who may or may not exist.
If it sounds zany from the off, things only get stranger and stranger as the novel progresses, and the 200 odd pages are packed with mythical creatures, legendary trackers, crazed heroes, brutal villains, talkative animals and all sorts of other things. More than once, characters will be given lengthy introductions and back stories only to appear for a few paragraphs and disappear for the rest of the book.
The novel has moments of brilliant, dark humour and evokes the sense of the mystic and magic of the old Celtic tales. The primary characters at its centre are brilliantly sketched and the story itself keeps you turning the pages to the last as it unfolds. But clunkiness and a lack of direction blights the adventure somewhat. Awkward references to Facebook and the internet (the novel is set in the present day but really feels as though it’s the Ireland of 50 years ago) tend to slow down the action and the story weaves in such a way as to sometimes be confusing.
The darkness in tone also jars against the whimsicality of much of the dialogue, and there’s a feeling that were some of the characters fleshed out more, rather than too many others introduced, the story would stand up a lot more.
With all that said, Sour is a page-turner and will keep you glued to the end. Moments of laugh out loud hilarity blend with moments of genuine pathos and darkness to create a sometimes brilliant blend of drama and comedy. An ambitious debut, but one that may have needed some more gelling together.