Book Review: The Journey Home

The Journey Home


By Dermot Bolger





The Journey Home by Dermot Bolger is an exceptional novel from one of Ireland’s leading contemporary writers.  The author, with the release of this title, has been recently nominated for the Irish literature prize in the Irish Times/Aer Lingus awards.

One can immediately see why.

Mr Bolger, to coin a phrase, is a master of modern-day grotesquery in that he portrays a horribly vivid picture of Dublin life as seen through the eyes of his principal characters: Hano, Shay and Katie.

The former enjoys too much lavish drunken debauchery with is soulmate Shay; whilst the latter has a sordid past of solvent abuse and robbery.

Briefly, Hano meets Shay whilst working in an electoral office; the two begin drinking heavily together and become best friends. Hano gradually places Shay on a pedestal. The latter moves to the continent, returns, and is eventually murdered by Hano’s ex-boss: the shady (homosexual) Patrick Plunkett (extortionist extraordinaire).  In revenge, Hano murders Plunkett and goes on the run with the outcast and social victim Katie.

Behind all this marvellous maundering is a background of drug abuse, homelessness, prostitution, alcoholism, corruption rape, destruction of innocence, death, and street-fighting (PHEW!).  The whole structure of the novel would make Dickens envious.

Bolger is incontrovertibly a craftsman. Structurally The Journey Home is a delight to behold; for the author incorporates flashback/memory with the present; and manages to restrict the story’s time-span to four days (Sunday to Wednesday).  Further to this his seemingly “out-of-place” passages (in italics) give his work a strong cinematic quality.

Moreover, the characters portrayed in the book are extremely lifelike.  It seems that very few authors around today could mould such moral deviants; such villainous, putrescent scum; as does Dermot Bolger.  I actually sat down after reading this little gem of skulduggery and imagined what type of life, and what kind of people the writer in question has had the misfortune to have known.  The Plunkett brothers are nasty pieces of work.  Patrick is a high-powered sexual deviant; Pascal is a corruptible junior minister. The two, in my opinion, would have battled well against the Kray twins.

The whole tone of the book is one of no hope as the narrator (Hano) struggles with his guilt.  Indeed, this novel could be very easily compared to Jean-Paul Sartre.  It has an essentially existentialist outlook and moves often from one morose setting to the next:

…”But always the fun was jolted out of the night by the interruption of the journey.  We’d sit on the floor around an electric fire, opening six-packs and trying to get back into the happy ambience of the pub.  But slowly the conversation froze back into the endless dissection of work and promotion, character assassination and grudges”…

The book carries on in this vein incessantly.  It can make reading somewhat arduous at times; sometimes strangely interesting at others.

One essential point to note about the Journey Home is that it can shock quite easily.  I issue this very serious warning:  DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PURCHASE THIS NOVEL IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED.  For within this work there are numerous passages of gratuitous violence; bad language; and explicit sex scenes (including a homosexual rape scene).  On the other hand, if you are open-minded these passages are a riveting read:  for they practically drip realism onto the page.  They are also arguably essential to the plot in that they aid the reader to visualise the harsh realities that the author is trying to convey.  Indeed, the author attains his goals in this respect with consummate ease.

The Journey Home, surprisingly, is a refreshing, rather than a depressing work.  It can serve as a lesson to us all on how to avoid the evils of modern society.  The book’s greatest attribute is it’s commentary on the destruction of innocence, and collapse of society (Hano’s family being the prime example of this).

One really wonders if the author leaves us with any hope of salvation from the sordid state that Dublin, and, more importantly, the characters within this novel have got themselves into.  Is It is really their fault thought?……we can only speculate.

Overall, this is a book that will no doubt have you completely enthralled from the moment you pick it up until you put it down.  I strongly recommend its purchase, despite the fact that I previously thought that I disliked this genre.

The Journey Home is worthwhile: not only is it thoroughly entertaining, but it will no doubt stand the test of time as a social commentary.  Just like Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier it is vastly ahead of its time.  The novel has something in it for everyone; and the discerning reader will find it hard not to see it for it’s true worth.

Granted, I didn’t come away from reading it with a sense of catharsis – but I was pleased to discover that my initial perceptions of the book were wholly unfounded.

At its current price it is at least worth considerable consideration.



Me? …..well, I’m going to buy another one of Bolger’s books!


Mark McCormack

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