From Out of the City
John Kelly imagines a future Dublin lorded over by porn stars, dead presidents and not-so-starry skies
The latest novel by Enniskillen-born broadcaster, writer, sometime DJ and musician, John Kelly, is a whacky, satirical, futuristic tale of one city: Dublin.
At Dublin castle, the most powerful man on the planet, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States – the President himself, Richard Rutledge Barnes, King of the Memphis Kings – lies dead on the carpet of St Patrick’s Hall, a bullet in his brain. The scene is set for a zany whodunit.
In the wider 21st century world, there is continuing tension in the Middle East following the Jerusalem War. A bomb has gone off in Rome and a chemical hoax causes commuter chaos in Prague. In the Amazon basin, 22 more species have become extinct.
The European Union is now the European Alliance, while the CIA has been replaced by the UIA, an unofficial body which allows its agents to operate freely across all borders. It is, says the book’s narrator, Monk, a time of personal, local, national, global and cosmic dysfunction.
The main protagonists are the three male inhabitants of 28 Hibernia Road, Dun Laoghaire, a suburb south of Dublin City. At the top of the house lives octogenarian Monk, named after the jazz icon Thelonius, who spends his time monitoring, observing and analysing the movement of the other occupants, Big Brother style.
Devoted to the truth, he reassures the reader over and often that his is an honest and faithful account of real events, real thoughts and real behaviour. Whether or not we should believe him, only time will tell.
40-year-old Anton James Schroeder, meanwhile, was the first new millennium baby to be born in the city, pipping the post to another contender in a neck and neck race. He is the author of a flawed novel entitled Lucky’s Tirade, and excessive drinking has just cost him his job as a lecturer in the English department of Trinity College.
Finally, confined to a wheelchair, Louis Walton – perpetually drunk or fried on painkillers – is fixated with Jakki Jack, a blond porn star from Kiev.
Schroeder’s girlfriend, Francesca Maria Maldini, works in PR, speaks many languages, makes frequent trips to China and listens to the Kronos Quartet on her headphones. When she leaves him unexpectedly, Schroeder stalks Chantal – chic in a French beret, as she cycles around the streets of Dublin – unaware that she is, in fact, following him, whether as herself or Margaret Lynch or Taylor Copland, an American agent.
Shroeder is equally preoccupied with television news reporter Paula Viola, who announces the president’s death to the world. Princess King, daughter of the dead president – depicted as a beauty and brainbox – is studying creative writing at TCD, where she is locked up for her own safety along with the Book of Kells, and Beckett’s cricket bat.
In the curious capital that is Dublin circa 2040, we learn that the citizens think neither crooked nor straight. It seems that the only enduring features are the street names, among them Westmoreland Street, named for John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmoreland and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and Grafton Street named for Charles Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Grafton, wayward son of the illegitimate son of Charles II.
Far be it from me to spoil the reader’s fun by revealing how this raucous tale ends, but I can confirm that Kelly – who, as they say in these parts, has a real gift of the gab and a feeling for the music of language – employs his considerable arsenal of colloquialisms (ballyhoos, baloneys, blootereds), popular sayings and erudite smatterings of Latin and Irish to enliven the narrative.
In the opening chapters, as I reach for the dictionary to decipher words like jaglion, retromingent and brobdingnagian, I can’t help but feel that the worthy author is establishing his credentials as a chronicler of a city so ably evoked by Joyce, Beckett, Donleavy and others.
However, Kelly comes into his own when the action moves to Liddley’s pub on Nassau Street. Here, Schroeder meets Jules Roark, author of a book about the death of Catholicism. As more and more drink is consumed, the pair spar with each other and with the very tall Senegalese bartender named Paddy, after his fellow countryman and footballer, Patrick Viera.
Schroeder cures his hangover with a Turkish coffee that could kill a horse, and by the time he arrives at Reddings Hotel to meet an old school friend, Father Claude – pronounced ‘Clod’ not ‘Clode, who might as well be Father Ted – I find myself laughing so hard there are tears streaming down my cheeks.
When Walton somehow makes it to the Paradiso where his sex star idol, Jackie Jack, is due to make a special appearance, the tongue in cheek, whimsical dialogue becomes positively slapstick.
Somewhat abruptly, the mood changes with a lyrical passage about stars – there has been a power cut in Dun Laoghaire and, as Monk surveys the skies from his back garden, he reminisces about the constellations he studied as a boy.
Back then he was able to see the morning star with his naked eye, and the moons of Jupiter with the aid of binoculars, and through a telescope he viewed the deserts and polar caps of Mars. Those days are long gone.
By the end of From Out of the City, Monk has not moved from his eerie in Dun Laoghaire, where he sits on a sofa with a stoli in a highball minding his own cheese and biscuits. Readers will, of course, discover who killed President King and judge the whole for themselves, but for this reviewer the book’s creator deserves five stars and a hearty bravo.
From Out of the City is out now, published by Dalkey Archive Press.