Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Devil I Know

Claire Kilroy
The Devil I Know

Faber & Faber, 2012

The novel is written in the form of questioning. Someone named Fergus in 2016 questions the novel’s protagonist Tristram St Lawrence, who was involved in a real estate boom in Ireland in 2006, and then in the collapse of it.

Tristram at the beginning of his confession tells how he nearly died on a plane to make an emergency landing in Dublin. There at the airport hotel Tristram meets accidentally an old friend Desmond Hickey, real estate developer. Hickey immediately takes Tristram to the bar to drink. But Tristram can not drink. Tristram is a former alcoholic, barely survived after a binge. When Tristram has not arrived at his mother's funeral, everyone thought that he’d died ("It was another Tristram St. Lawrence" - Tristram jokes every time). Tristram is rescued by a mysterious character who instructs Tristram by telephone. A stranger appears as Monsieur Deauville, and from that point, as this man made Tristram to join the "Alcoholics Anonymous" and pulled him out from death, Tristram follows instructions from Deauville.

Tristram and Hickey come to the bar, where Hickey buy them a pint, but after five minutes in there Deauville calls Tristram and says that a taxi is waiting for Tristram, it's time to go. Tristram returnes to the castle, which belonged to his mother, but now to Tristram himself (he, after all, is the thirteenth Earl of Howth on the title). His father is living in the castle and does not even want to talk to his son. In the castle Tristram also finds servant Larney who seems senile and talks in riddles. Hickey makes Tristram a business proposal, and at the direction of Deauville Tristram agrees to it.

This book boasts a delightful blend of the real and the unreal. Start with the fact that the action takes place in the future, in 2016. From the beginning, it is not clear whether the narrator is alive or not, it is unclear to whom he tells his story. At the same time, the real estate boom in Ireland really was, as was the collapse, and accuracy in the details regarding property is respected. «The Devil I Know» is, of course, the picaresque novel. If measure it for the quantity of black humor this novel is like "Master and Margarita" plus "Dead Souls" by Gogol. Characters are still those boobies, but, of course, a purely British boobies. All this is compounded by an unreliable narrator, and here I can clearly see some parallels with Stephen Fry. Tristram is Black Adder (from TV series of the same title), and former alcoholic, and a simpleton, which Ireland has never seen, and the person who has become a puppet of the devil. He is certainly an apocryphal, grotesque, hilarious character, but charming, clever even, just trying not to use his wit.

Page-turner is not always equal a good book, but in this case it is a good page-turner. You should get all the fun right away, and read the book quickly, the plot goes like a storm, though it seems there is not a lot of action here. Claire Kilroy writes clever, brilliantly and boldly. Her writing is multi-colored, but without excess.

The theme of real estate today may not be the most relevant, but the devil is always something out there somewhere.

It’s a great novel, call it fantasy, the mainstream, even a modern fairy tale. Very good.

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