Montpelier Parade – Karl Geary – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
Karl Geary’s début novel is set in south county Dublin in the early 1980s, sometimes among the leafy Georgian terraces of Monkstown but more often in the rough, impoverished housing estate where his narrator lives. Through the eyes of Sonny Knolls (no, not the same Sonny Knowles who was the lead singer with the Pacific Showband in the 1960s/70s), a 16-year-old boy, we see a Dublin of have and have-nots and where the happenstance of birth determines the who, what and where of your future. Sonny’s family – there are six older brothers – live in a cramped overcrowded house, barely surviving, often hungry.
The only one of the family to go to “proper” school (his brothers were sent to the local “tech”), Sonny struggles with his studies and is the butt of ridicule and bullying among his more privileged classmates. After school he sweeps the floor in a local butcher’s shop and occasionally helps his father, a casual labourer, to do small building jobs. It is during one of these that his life changes when he meets Vera, a middle-aged English woman, whose garden wall they are repairing.
Their casual first meeting gives no indication of the important role they will play in each other’s life. For Sonny, Vera comes to represent a sentimental education that changes him from a boy to a young man and for her, Sonny becomes a source of temporary salvation from a despair that has engulfed her life. Their friendship leaves Sonny torn between the dream of possibilities that Vera’s world offers and the constricted, mundane existence her shares with Sharon, his only friend, like himself damaged and limited by the world they inhabit..
The second person narrative “the longer she held your arm, the more you could feel the heat from her body and she could feel the heat from yours. You turned a corner and as plain as day you recognised the shape of your mother….” is unsettling, taking away any filter between the writer and listener. Geary’s novel is raw, at times an uneasy read, but he captures the harshness and ugliness of the Ireland (particularly the Dublin) of the 1980s, where to aspire above your station is to risk scorn and rebuff. When Sonny confides in the school counsellor that he wants to be a painter, he is greeted with derision when he explains that he means an artist, not a wall-painter. A person from his background, he is told, should not aspire to anything more than an apprenticeship or a trade.
Karl Geary is a man of many talents. In his varied career since he moved from Ireland to the USA at the age of 15 he has starred in several films, (most recently in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall). He is owner of a successful and trendy bar in downtown Manhattan and, as this book shows, is an impressive and sensitive writer. What he is not, however, is a good reader. His turgid delivery here creates an oppressive and soporific effect that does not do his story justice. His first novel leaves Sonny on the brink of adulthood, aware of possible paths he might take of which he had never dreamt before. The listener is left hoping we will hear more of Sonny, a complex and intriguing character, next time with a different reader.
This version is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 5h 51