Dublin Seven is certainly not the Dublin depicted by literary giant James Joyce in Dubliners even though a recent article billed the book as Love/Hate meets Ulysses. Nor is it close to the down-to-earth Dublin depicted in Roddy Doyle’s books. It is the story of a Dublin low-life named Shane who falls into drug dealing and becomes something of a Jack the lad around town. The story kicks off in 2005 at the height of the Celtic tiger when Ireland was awash with cheap credit and plenty of cocaine to fuel the obnoxious coke heads that were running around the city during those boom years.
In the real world, Irish people were slowly waking up to the realisation that ten years of unfettered materialism had precipitated the end of the old Ireland and cocaine was a symbol of the new Ireland. It was like the country had joined the ranks of the first world but still carried with it the baggage of the third world. In many ways you could compare this new Ireland depicted in the book to someone on skid row winning the national lottery. Of course their lottery win doesn’t give them class and most end up back to where they started. In that sense Dublin Seven is a reflection of this empty, artificial world propped up by an insatiable appetite for stuff.
Even though the main characters are aged in their late teens to early twenties they all come across as having arrested development or appear to be going through some kind of extended adolescence. The main problem I had was with the dialogue which was banal and cliched in places and made the characters sound like hopeless losers whose main pursuits were getting bollixed and getting their hole. Females seem to be little more than vessels to relieve the sexual urges of men. One of their chauvinistic remarks pretty much sums it up..
Every hole is a goal!
By the time I’d reached the halfway mark the only major scene was Shane encountering some scumbag in a dingy early house boozer and then watching him getting beaten to a pulp by one of his associates. Up to that point the entire story seemed like an extended bender with a lot of drug dealing and the absence of any kind of layered conflict. All the characters appeared devoid of personality and lacking in emotional depth.
Those who are not from Dublin will probably struggle to appreciate or even understand the Dublin lingo. I can handle the occasional use of colloquialisms but an entire novel where everyone speaks with the same annoying Northside accent can become irritating. I get that the author was probably trying inject a sense reality into the way people from the Northside or north inner city speak but it was total overkill and felt like reading a script for a second-rate stage play rather than a novel.
Leaving aside the constant binge drinking, drug dealing, drug-taking and the omnipresence of violence that goes along with this lifestyle, I struggled to find the heart in this book. The epigraph of As You Like It by William Shakespeare at the opening suggests that the book refers to Seven Ages of Man, with the book being split into seven chapters and not necessarily referring to Dublin 7. I have to admit that I cringed inwardly. To place this novel in the same league as William Shakespeare is not just overly ambitious but somewhat contrived.
There didn’t seem to be any discernible character arc but just a collection of scenes involving the main character and various scumbags. I never felt I was going beyond Shane’s primitive reptilian brain to really discover what made him tick aside from his internal monologues at the end of the book which was little more than a series of brain farts. If you are looking for some kind of hero’s journey within this story you can forget it.
The action scenes that did occur were unconvincing. In one scene, for example, Shane’s father decides he wants to put the frighteners on his son and organises a few of his mates from down the pub to kidnap him. Shane is bundled into the boot of a car with a hood over his head not knowing if he going to be killed at the end. When the door opens he muses at how beautiful the light of dusk is in comparison to the darkness of the boot.
The thing that really got me was the over-emphasised Dubberlin accents. Not having any choice but to sound the words out in my head in a forced Northside accent made the dialogue feel self conscious and jarring. As a result the words didn’t flow and felt unnatural in my head. Rather than making the characters seem more authentic it made much of what they said sound corny and stilted.
So much of their conversations were dull and inane resorting to telling rather than showing.
Consider the following;
There was an English soap-opera on the telly. A shrewish cockney harpy was screaming at someone.
—What’s her problem? asked Shane.
—Don’t know, said Elizabeth.
—Goin ballistic isn’t she?
—Mmm, said Elizabeth lazily.
—Is she still ridin yer man?
—Don’t know, said Elizabeth.
He knew this wasn’t true. She knew everything that went on in the soaps. She even bought the magazines – not just the celebrity gossip ones, the ones dedicated to the entirely fictional worlds of the programmes too.
—Nothin, she mumbled.
—C’mon wha is it?
—It’s nothin! she growled.
—Ah for fuck sake Elizabeth, will ye just tell me what it is!
—Aw just leave it Shane, will ye?
Dublin Seven felt to me like the literary equivalent of watching a poverty porn reality TV show following the lives of a bunch of people living on Benefits Street. After the novelty of sneering at stupid people doing even stupider things wears off you soon realise it’s time to get them out of your head because their lives really aren’t that interesting after all and there isn’t anything to be gleaned from inviting these ‘low-rent’ types into your living-room so to speak.
Throughout the entire book I couldn’t shake off the feeling that the author Frankie Gaffney, binged on an entire TV series of Love/Hate and knocked out a novel lacking in depth in a bid to cash in on a trend for Dublin gangsters on the back of the aforementioned TV series. Dublin Seven is not quite an unpolished turd but there is not a lot that shines through unless coked up scumbags operating on a very primitive level is your bag. I didn’t love Dublin Seven but I didn’t hate it either.
Click below to read a free sample of Dublin Seven by Frankie Gaffney..