Monday, April 2, 2012


A cross between Oliver Twist and Angela's Ashes, with a heavy dose of the Irish Republican Army thrown in, this book is the first in a trilogy featuring picaresque hero Henry Smart, alias Fergus Nash, alias Brian O'Linn.  He even claims to be Michael Collins from time to time and makes a habit of escaping from pursuers by way of the Dublin underground sewers.  Henry joins the IRA not so much for its revolutionary cause as for a means of somehow getting revenge for the extreme poverty that pervades his existence.  In fact, it soon becomes clear that the IRA is a haven for boys with a thirst for bloodshed, violence and close calls with death, not to mention food, clothes and firearms.  Henry's one-legged father worked as a bouncer for a brothel and also performed the occasional hit for an unseen thug.  Henry finds himself doing similar dirty deeds for the not-so-poverty-stricken leaders of the IRA and realizes that the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.  When a friend is targeted for termination, Henry begins to re-evaluate the path his life has taken.  His distaste for killing marks him as an enemy of the IRA as well, and he has to go into hiding once again.  Sometimes I enjoy a good testosterone-y read, but in this case I never really understood what was the purpose of all the fighting.  At first, the insurrectionists didn't even have popular support, and later it became obvious that the IRA were vastly outnumbered and under-equipped, lacking airpower and organization.  All they really had was passion, and sometimes that seemed to be aimed in the wrong direction.  Even after a compromise was reached with the British, the Irish leaders admitted that change was going to be minimal.  Then I suppose infighting led to the Irish Civil War.  At least I knew that Henry was going to live to inhabit two sequels.

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