The Holy City, by Patrick McCabe
A most interesting novel from a most interesting author. Irishman Patrick McCabe has given us Chris J. McCool, age 67, a Catholic bastard who has somehow survived a lot of Irish history.
In his early life, CJ has a problem dealing with his Catholicism — specifically the fact that his mother’s husband, the Protestant landed gentry, wants no part of him at all. CJ invents a half-brother and locates him in the manor, beginning a lifelong tendency of creating unreal worlds to explain the real parts that he cannot cope with. Raised on the outskirts of the estate by a Catholic zealot, CJ has begun his road to ruin.
In the short term, it starts with a very well portrayed affair with Dolly Mixtures (or Dolores McCausland), another Catholic who can’t stand or live by the all too temperate Protestant mores of the district. Alas, Dolly is staying in a household that includes Marcus Otoyo, a saintly black whom the local Catholic church has semi-adopted as a saint himself. CJ’s jealousy, or homophobic lust, coupled with his longing for parents (or parent-like figures) creates disaster.
All of this is told from the perspective (both adding in and leaving out details — only the reader can try to figure out which) of a 67-year-old CJ who now lives in The Happy Club, shacked up (sort of married) with a beautiful Croatian whom he loves/distrusts at this age every bit as much as he loved/distrusted Marcus a half century earlier.
McCabe’s story is interesting, but it is not the real strength of the book. That lies in CJ’s inability to cope with what is around him — originally the non-recognition from his parents, then the treatment of Asian doctors at the Asylum where he is treated, now just about everything that represents the arrival of the Celtic Tiger. A true “Boomer” throughout it all, his touchstone is the music of the 1960s — Lulu and Peggy Lee figure prominently and it helps a lot as a reader if you remember their lyrics. In the present tense, CJ and “wife” are regular visitors at Mood Indigo, a boomer-themed club by the retirement residence that keeps playing all that music.
McCabe does an excellent job of capturing the dislocation that CJ feels throughout his life — as a youth, during middle age and now in his senior citizenship. It is not a perfect book by any means — it is definitely a worthwhile read.