Baileys Women's Prize For Fiction: The Glorious Heresies
We continue our special coverage of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist with The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney's powerful and riotous novel set in Cork's dangerous underworld. Sally Campbell, Waterstones Blog Administrator, investigates.
‘This is not the Ireland of the tourist websites, although the modern world does flit by, populated by aliens in drainpipe jeans and crafted beards who gawp at the likes of [McInerney’s characters].’ – The Telegraph
Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies joins an ever-growing list of impressive debuts written by young female Irish novelists; much like her contemporaries Eimear McBride, Mary Costello and Sara Baume, McInerney has enjoyed a rapturous reception from readers and critics alike for her challenging and innovative writing style. However, The Glorious Heresies is not technically the first piece of writing for which McInerney has received acclaim.
In 2006, McInerney began her now much-admired, vociferous blog ‘Arse End of Ireland’ using the online moniker The Sweary Lady. In fierce and unflinching prose, the blog depicts life on a council estate in Galway. For her debut, she has turned her attentions to the city of Cork ‘specifically’, she says on the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction website, ‘its rhythms, its ups and its downs – both in terms of hills and accents.’
This is not an account of misty, postcard Ireland; the novel’s focus is resolutely post-bailout, where the lives of a group of unemployed individuals intersect as they become embroiled in a dark web of deception; all of which McInerney sets against the backdrop of Cork city’s murky underbelly.
A defining feature of McInerney's style is that she writes in colloquial Irish. Rich and often very funny, the language will no doubt draw as many wry smiles as outright gasps. The Sunday Times described the book as ‘peppered with the kind of language a critic would call “vernacular” and your mother would call unforgiveable.’
This fresh, literary vibrancy enhances McInerney’s sense of story. As the Irish Times put it, The Glorious Heresies is ‘[a] big, brassy, sexy beast of a book…Without [McInerney’s] intoxicating love of language the book might be exhausting…but she has the linguistic wizardry (and the naughtiness) to keep you hooked.’
It is a plot in which McInerney spares no one; in bold, blistering prose, she lays out the hypocrisies and vulnerabilities of all of her characters and indeed her entire homeland. This is a country deeply wounded by the economic crisis and one that is trying to reconcile modern thinking with the church’s culture of fear. Sue Leonard for the Irish Examiner wrote ‘Lisa McInerney has rattled the cage with her debut novel’, while author Kevin Barry has called McInerney ‘totally and unmistakably the real deal.’
The novel opens as fifteen-year-old Ryan, something of a young delinquent, plays truant with his love-interest Karine. He has invited her to his father’s empty house to sleep with her for the first time and sees himself on the cusp of manhood; as McInerney puts it, ‘[he] left the boy a pile of mangled, skinny limbs and stepped through the door a newborn man’.
Meanwhile, the 59 year old mother of the most feared gangster in Cork inadvertently kills an intruder in her home. Her son enlists Ryan’s errant and violent father to dispose of the body, all of which sets in motion a series of dramatic and ever-worsening events.
While presenting a terrifying world governed by callous survival instincts, McInerney shows there is warmth and complexity to this life too; as The Guardian notes ‘Ryan is an intriguing character, as his truculence disguises some surprising depths, not least a history of childhood neglect’. It then adds of Ryan and Karines’s relationship that it: ‘touchingly endures’; while the other characters lose their humanity to varying degrees, Ryan and Karine serve as the human heart of this powerful novel.
‘Sound the trumpets. Or perhaps the harp. The Glorious Heresies heralds the arrival of a glorious, foul-mouthed, fizzing new talent.’ The Sunday Times