I’m not sure how popular Ross O’Carroll-Kelly is ‘out foreign’, but since 1998 this satirical creation of journalist Paul Howard has been shining a spotlight on Ireland’s society through the privileged lens of a rich Dublin southside rugby player. This is the fourteenth book in the series (and the RO’CK juggernaut isn’t only books) so he is definitely doing something right, and the formula remains in place for this latest outing.
There’s plenty to take offence at (Ross is still deeply unpleasant and that’s just the start of it) and plenty to laugh at too. Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum; gender identity; Trump and Brexit are all key parts of this particular mix, plus causal references to Irish celebs (“the Happy Pear goys, Vegward I call them”). I confess I had fallen out of touch with the character for his last couple of outings, and reading this book reminded me how funny he can be. If you are a RO’CK fan you will love this; if you are new to him it’s as good a place as any to start.
Operation Trumpsformation is published by Penguin Ireland. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Dimitri Verhulst’s Christ’s Entry Into Brussels is part moral fable, part vitriolic and darkly humorous analysis of modern Belgium. Just like the Ensor painting from which it takes its name, this book is not so much about a visitation from the Son of God but about holding a mirror up to the society he will return to find. The Second Coming is not announced with any great fanfare “[t]here it was, tucked away between an item about an attempt on the world hotdog-eating record and one listing the latest antics of a female pop singer. Christ was coming to Brussels on the twenty-first of July”. However a subtle change begins to happen that very day – people speak to each other on public transport for the first time in living memory – and the mood of the nation begins to have a dramatic overhaul.
Our narrator is sleepwalking through his life. His marriage is dissolving, his relationship with his only surviving parent practically non-existent, his desire to limit his interactions with other human beings apparently his primary driver. He fluctuates between resentment and cynical detachment, yet as the novella progresses our narrator too gets caught up in the swelling of hope and national pride as the fateful day approaches. He buys his wife flowers. He visits a neighbour for dinner. He dares to dream of a better future for a nation that he has little patience with or respect for. After all, if Jesus Christ has chosen the national holiday to appear – perhaps the place isn’t so bad after all? Our narrator is not alone in jumping on the Jesus-joy bandwagon as “[d]efeatists and kiss-my-arsists everywhere indulged in childish excitement, the sceptics put the mockers under lock and key – it was a moving sight”
Not content with ringing the birds and branding the cows, humanity has ‘moved on’ to cataloguing itself. As the wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson has bemoaned “Had to wait in line to renew a Passport allowing me to visit members of my own species across artificially conceived borders”. Verhulst quickly turns his satiric gaze to Transit Centre 127 where illegal immigrants are held – “Illegal: imagine hearing it about yourself! That your existence is unauthorised! That your birth was non-statutory! That you weren’t actually allowed to exist!” Among those waiting to be deported back to the only places on earth where they are less welcome than in Belgium, the authorities hope to find a translator to help them communicate with Jesus. Remembering Jesus’s fondness for children, they select an eleven year old girl who is soon plagued with nightmares that she does something wrong and loses out on the permanent resident permits she and her family will receive as payment. Arabic, ancient Aramaic, it’s all the same right? The authorities disregard for the differences in these languages is all the more ludicrous given the detailed lampooning of the cumbersome politics surrounding Belgium’s multilingual public administration. Continue reading “Christ’s Entry Into Brussels”→