book review: The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

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THE GLORIOUS HERESIES by Lisa McInerney
★★★★★
Penguin Random House, 2017
Review on Goodreads

I hold onto her and tell her I love her and tell her I’ll do anything she wants me to do but beyond my words and her weight in my arms there’s the knowing we fucked this up. There was something beautiful here once.

This is one of the most hard-hitting and thematically rich books I’ve read in a long time. There’s so much to unpack here, I’m not quite sure where to begin.

The Glorious Heresies centers around five characters: fifteen-year-old drug dealer Ryan and his alcoholic father Tony, grandmother Maureen and her gangster son Jimmy, and a prostitute named Georgie. The way these characters relate to one another is complicated, tangled. They weave in and out of each other’s lives, implicitly connected by a single act that occurs in the first chapter: Maureen discovers an intruder in her home, and, startled, she hits him over the head, killing him. The consequences of this unplanned murder unfold over the course of the novel, which spans several years, in the city of Cork.

Lisa McInerney’s debut novel is an unflinching examination of the cycle of poverty that drives crime in modern day Ireland. This book not only explores the complex web of social dynamics that breeds crime and corruption, but pays particular attention to the way this is manifested across generations. Is someone truly responsible for the way they raise their children, if they too were a victim of society’s moral and structural failings? Where and how does the cycle end? These are the questions McInerney raises while examining this group of broken individuals living on the fringes of society. Crime and religion are so heavily intertwined in these pages it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins, as McInerney fearlessly dissects these themes as thoroughly as possible in this not-quite-400 page novel.

The Glorious Heresies is bleak and profane and at times quite depressing. But it’s also darkly comedic and hopeful. McInerney’s intelligent prose is laced with Irish slang that makes this a visceral and immersive reading experience, in a novel which is layered with complex characters who are each in their own way seeking retribution. It’s honestly one of the most striking things I’ve read in a while. I know I won’t stop thinking about this any time soon.

Thank you Blogging for Books and Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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