Sunday, 28 December 2008

Hellfire - Mia Gallagher

Hellfire is long. That's the first thing you'd think. 670 pages are not easy to pass unnoticed. But this is the main reason why I decided to pick it up, after 2 years. I wanted to get it out of the way, the biggest book in the pile.
I've kept this proof copy since 2006, one of the first free books I took when I started working in the bookshop. It caught my attention because it was advertised as a mix between Roddy Doyle and Angela Carter. As it happens, it's nothing like them. It reminds me more of Christiane F. . Although you need to shift the setting from Berlin to Dublin and the language from German to a heavy north-side accent. And although this is fiction and as a story it works a lot better.
At first I loved recognising all the streets and places mentioned, but it didn't take much for me to be swept away by the story itself.
Lucy Dolan has just been released from prison, and as she walks along the streets of Dublin, she starts telling the story of her family, starting from her great-grandfather, who was a foundling. And her grandmother, who had the gift of Sight and of storytelling.
I had no clue where the story was going, but it didn't matter. I love stories of families. And Lucy's voice is so captivating she kept me glued to the pages anytime I opened them.
It's been a fascinating and extreme journey. I grew fond of Lucy, despite her mistakes and her anger at the world. I just kept thinking she needed to be loved, that's all. By her mother, her friends, her brothers.
The world in which she grows up is tough. Bleak flats, bleak schools, bleak streets. It's the '80s and the Celtic Tiger hasn't started to roar yet. The inner city is dominated by gang lords, who are always at war and always looking for young rascals to recruit for their errands. At 12, Micko, Lucy's older brother, and his best friend Nayler, are the two best new acquisitions. They rob, they sell, they do everything they're told. Until something goes wrong and they are packed off to reform school.
Lucy is left alone with her precious baby sister Sam, her irresponsible and uncaring mother, and her sick granny.
Her only friend her nerdy cousin Charlie. Until her first day of secondary school where she meets Amanda.
The whole story is told to Nayler, Micko's friend. To know why you need to keep reading. His relationship with Lucy is strange and complicated. Deep and tormented, it's made of unspoken worlds, of misunderstandings, of secrets and of Ifs. You might fall in love with Nayler, with his casual attitude and easy charm, or you might hate him for all he's done. But you'll never know the truth till the end.
As for me, I just cared about Lucy, and about her dreamy sister Sam.
I knew a tragedy was only waiting to happen, the only question was when. But I never imagined how it happened, till it does.
And even then, even through the hardest parts, I was always, completely, enthralled with the story. There's violence, and blood, and cruelty. But there's also magic, and little moments of tenderness.
I loved how sometimes short paragraphs were simple images of memories. A glance, an awkward silence, or a vision. Because the story is full of visions. Lucy has a glimpse of the gift. Unlike her granny, who can dive deep into the sea of visions and possibilities, Lucy is only a seagull, who can go underwater, catch a bit of truth, and then has to swim back up, gasping for air. She never knows if what she sees is the future, the past, the present,or just madness. But it doesn't matter, because nothing she sees can change what's coming.
I must be a sucker for tragic, sad and dramatic stories, even though I wouldn't have thought so. Maybe I like them because they show raw emotions. Yes, that's a right word for this book. It's raw, in all its meanings: harsh, angry, crude, unfair, painful. But also deep and intense and heart-shattering.
One of my favourite reads of the year.

other reviews:
Crime always pay


Nymeth said...

Wow..straight to the wishlist it goes.

Isn't it great when you finally get to a book you've sort of been avoiding due to size or whatever and it turns out to be amazing? It's what happened to me with The Blind Assassin recently.

valentina said...

yes, it is and it makes me think of all those poor neglected books lying there waiting for their chance:P

Lesley said...

I just finished paring down my amazon wishlist to make room for new additions. This is one of them!

mariel said...

Wow, another book I haven't heard off that sounds great! Thanks for the review.

sarah said...

I loved this book, so glad to see someone else has read it, I kept pushing it on everyone I knew.

valentina said...

Lesley and Mariel,I hope you get around it, I can't wait to know what people thought of it!
The paperback looks much less intimidating, so I'd recommend that edition:)

Sarah, I think I will too.