ENG. REVIEW Mick Donnellan: Fisherman´s Blues, 2014

”Fisherman´s Blues” is the black story of crooked guys, psychopathic murderers and (why not?) God trapped in an insane asylum. No ordinary plot, the novel takes place primarily in the West of Ireland in a city called Galway.

The title comes from the folkrock group The Waterboys who actually lived in and around Galway at the end of the1980’s and composed the classic song and album of the same name. However, Fisherman´s Blues the novel is not about music, but a humorous story where life, death and love are relentlessly intertwined through coincidence.

A New Order of Chaos -
The protagonist, Jack, is under pressure from the Social Welfare system. They have demanded he seek active employment or have his benefits cut off. To this end, they have organised a job for him in Galway. There he meets Chris and the two become great friends. A short while later, Jack meets Dyane, beautiful but complicated, and they become lovers. All seems to be going well until Dyane inexplicably disappears. Jack calls Chris to express his concern and it transpires his girlfriend, Nikki, has also gone missing. Worried, they retire to the pub to contemplate a solution.

Nothing is Sacred in Ireland -
Meanwhile, the spell-binding plot carries the reader through a myriad of surreal realities. Our first major hint of Surrealism comes from God’s decision to send St. Mary down to re-appear at the Sacred Shrine in Knock, Co. Mayo. Unfortunately it pours rain that day and Mary decides to move on to the better weather in South America. God, unable to contact her, descends to earth and lands in Galway. He’s driving a Silver Opel Astra from 1994 (the only car capable of making the necessary quantum and biblical jumps required). His search leads him to an insane asylum which is ironically named after Saint Mary. He knocks on the door and announces he is The Almighty and is looking for the Blessed Virgin. They immediately tackle him to the ground and admit him into psychiatric care. This is only one example of the kind of humour that saturates this far-out book. This ”slap-in-the-face” story, where neither life, death, love or religion is sacred, is a feature of many Irish writers, who, through generations have become famous for twisting reality in numerous and mysterious ways – eg Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Flann O´Brien and Samuel Beckett to mention just a few.

Back at the pub -
Chris and Jack conclude the disappearance of the women is connected to God’s incarceration and the only option is borrow the silver Opel Astra from 1994 and take a psychedelic journey through hell and limbo and hopefully discover the women in a parallel universe somewhere along the way. After packing the car up with crates of beer, snacks, cheap bread and “dodgy butter” off they go. Although comedic, there is a nod to Sartre like meaninglessness or the existentialism of Camus. Our everyday realities are deconstructed at a whim and the result is the void of what’s left when we take away our core beliefs. Our God, whoever he may be, has been incapacitated and the fate of humanity seems uncertain - especially when put in the hands of Chris and Jack.

Thirdly -
In a third connected plot, we have a vicious criminal attempting to take over the crime syndicate in the city. Knowing God’s Opel Astra is in play there is nothing he won’t do to get his hands on it. This doesn’t bode well for the safety of Chris and Jack, or the chances of completing their mission.

Conclude -
After turning the last page, and having laughed all the way through, you’ll think: fuck, what happened to my brain?! After reading the novel three times I´m still dizzy – which isn´t the worst thing to say about a book. Actually, the song ”Fisherman´s Blues” is about a turbulent mental journey toward the beautiful chorus ”With light in my head / you in my arms”. So there is light at the end of the tunnel – if not an oncoming train.

Galway will Never be the Same -
As in a lot of Donnellan’s other work, the pub life plays a vital role. The distinct and vivid writing means the reader is virtually present amongst the unique and fascinating pub culture in Ireland. One is forced to almost taste the Guinness and whiskey as they enjoy the music that pervades the drinking scenes. With religion thrown firmly into the dustbin of the absurd, this reverence for “the session” might be the last sacred thing left. The post structural essence of the work allows us to observe this Irish way from a distance and therefore witness the intrinsic beauty that might otherwise be lost in a more traditional framework. This is a world where drinking is not only a practice, but also an art. Our characters don’t go for one drink, they go drinking hours (if not days) on end. There is no respectable time to start or finish and everyone is welcome in their company. Everyone from strangers at the bar to buskers on the street are invited along. The unbounded generosity of spirit and social acceptance is a constant reminder of the Irish way. Everyone is welcome. No one is judged. In this respect ”Fisherman´s Blues” turns out to be a very Irish novel. Unravelling Ireland, the robust humour, and the extraordinary people – and all depicted in a very positive way. The language is characterised by the irresistible Galway accent and Irish slang, adding authenticity and humour to the descriptions and dialogues. Even though there are some rather weird characters, you can´t help love their humour and electrifying Irish slang. In fact, you can actually see yourself sitting with them as well as a Guinness and a large Powers – or three – in one of the unique pubs of Galway. But also the very short sentences – almost like stage remarks – in combination with poetic rephrases creates a very fascinating and literately visible language as in: ”We walked on with heavy hearts. A light drizzle began. Galway rain, unique in the world, speaks volumes, melts on the streets like memories, plays on the cobble like piano keys”. Can it be said better? And it hits you even more when you have strolled down a nightly Galway in rainy weather. Galway will never be the same for me again after reading about the famous pubs Neachtain´s, Taaffes´, King´s Head and all the other places, where you usually hang around. Now I really expect to meet Chris, Jack and all the other weird characters telling me magical, but truly credible stories. So, read “Fisherman´s Blues and get a fresh view of Galway….- and a good laugh too!

About Mick Donnellan, Ballinrobe, Ireland -
The Irish writer Mick Donnellan is from Ballinrobe in the West of Ireland and has written several plays, among them ”Radio Luxembourg” which was turned into a movie "Tiger Raid" in 2016. As well as two novels ”El Nino” and the newest ”Fisherman’s Blues” He holds a MA in Writing from NUIG (Nat. University of Ireland Galway). He has also worked with as a journalist, travel writer and teacher. Mick Donnellan’s newest novel ”Fisherman´s Blues” is available on in Paperback from Amazon for €10 and you can find it here at this link.  

Claus Hebor, april 2016
© hebor 2016 – no copying or distribution without permission

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