Remember the eve of the millennium? When we thought planes might drop from the sky because computers couldn’t cope with a string of three zeros? I even wrote a short story about it (In the Interim). Well here’s a novel set at that very time.
Over budget on his film on the millennium dome, failing to keep his feelings of loss at bay despite regular doses of cocaine, and with the Catholic hierarchy back in Ireland hoping to cash in on his mother’s claim that he’s Jesus Christ, it’s little wonder that Jay sees the final day of 1999 as potentially the last night on earth. But I’m getting ahead of myself …
This is a wonderfully eccentric and engaging novel, with echoes of A Better Man in Jay’s bungled attempts to be a good father and After Birth in the depths of love and rage “that says that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to pick up this baby and fling her out through those open windows” (p151), along with an amusing cameo in the contrast between the hippy calm of Shauna’s birth plan and the panicky reality. It’s also reminiscent of The Glorious Heresies in its dark humour and exuberant language (with regular doses of feckin and Gaelic) and a location in an Ireland a little less in thrall to the Catholic Church, with an extra thread in depicting the dislocation of the immigrant life (p12):
you recognise nothing around you, the streets make no sense, the cars, the signs, shopfronts mean nothing. You are, officially, nowhere, trapped between soul and brain. And at this very moment, this nanosecond of ache, while your brain is battling, and trying to beat back your soul, which has deviously dumped you somewhere between Roscommon and Reality, all you want to do is scream out in panic at the top of your lungs
What a pity, then, for this reader at least, that Kevin Maher should choose a certain Dr Ghert as the villain of the piece with a crucial place in the plot as the catalyst for the breakdown of Jay’s marriage. While we might be encouraged to take all of these characters with a pinch of salt, Dr Ghert, unlike the others, has no redeeming features, and I’m unable to find the humour in a therapist who has sex with his patient. We are warned that his methods are unorthodox (p25), and poor Jay can’t tell if he’s “a devious Danish bastard psychiatrist-cum-pervert” (p41) or a psychologist (p295). But I feel duty bound to tell you that Dr Ghert is a fraud, whose qualifications, cited as BPsych (Hons), CPsychol BPS (p39), leave much to be desired. (I’d never heard of the BPsych degree, as in the UK a first degree in psychology is either a BA or BSc, but it seems it does exist in some countries and even includes a counselling qualification, although I doubt that would be sufficient for the “standard cognitive therapy” (p81) the doctor claims to practice or even, perhaps, for registration as a counsellor in the UK. But I can state with confidence that the designation CPsychol, while it reflects the attainment of a high standard of psychological knowledge and expertise (well beyond a first degree), is a generic term and not on its own sufficient for someone to set themselves up as a psychotherapist and, incidentally, would never be followed by the letters BPS for the British Psychological Society.) Got that?
Last Night on Earth would be a good read for anyone not of my nervous disposition and my thanks to Little Brown for my review copy.
As ever, this being my last post of the month, as well as the last of the year, here's a reminder of the other books I've featured through December. Click on the image to catch up with any you've missed.
Here's wishing you a great last night of the year – I hope to be sleeping through the fireworks and frivolities – and look forward to connecting again in 2016.