Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Opening salvo (Books - The First Verse by Barry McCrea)

I have barely had time to dip into Barry McCrea's debut novel The First Verse, a recommendation of Eve's Alexandria, but the opening salvo has my interest piqued. In it, a young, contemporary man from Dublin is drawn into a mysterious literary cult in his first year as a student at Trinity.
An unremarkable swottishness and a cheap, almost corrupt knack for exams had got me easily through secondary school at the Jesuit Gonzaga College, and covered me with the scalps and headdresses of local competitions. And then in my last year of those mediocre gifts, in combination with a modest flair for foreign languages, had brought something more exciting my way. It took the form of a new Trinity College scholarship, only two in Ireland, the Beckett Foundation Fellowship, to study French and English literature. It entitled me to "Commons" - dinner in the huge Dining Hall every evening at six - and, more importantly, to roms (which means a room) in Trinity, a fact which enabled me to move out and leave, after nineteen years, the draughty Victorian house of my parents and of my childhood, atop the sad swell of the sea at Dun Laoghaire.
And if his knack for exams is cheap, could one perhaps call his knack for words rich? Our narrator tell us not soon after:
I would have been more aware of this as a rite of passage, the extreme unction of my childhood, setting off into the city to seek my fortune, but my mind had room only for Ian O'Neill.
The plot already has me in its grip, but not a paragraph is left unfestooned with deft metaphor or filigreed adverb - 'extreme unction of my childhood,' 'cannibalistic fervour.' I don't have a feeling yet for whether I think the tone belongs to the writer or the character, but I find it a little cocky. That may turn out to be appropriate, or to be worth it. If the man can write, why hide his light under a bushel?

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