Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Review: "The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley" by Jeremy Massey
The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley, the debut novel of Irishman Jeremy Massey, is pure joy: a rollicking, half-serious, half-hysterical look at one man’s resurrection on the eve of his destruction. It does for Ireland what Jo Nesbo’s crime novels do for the Nordic regions in Europe. It presents a heightened, esoteric version of a place steeped in myth, the tall tales of its landscape replaced by dread and threats of appalling violence. This is not the Dublin of James Joyce, but instead resembles the Dublin of Sons of Anarchy, circa Season 3. It is a dreary place and is filled with even drearier people. Another unique aspect of this endlessly entertaining book is its unique professional setting. The title character is an undertaker in what might be Dublin’s most successful funeral home, a profession shared by Massey himself. Not only does this provide a number of insights into the unseen world of running a funeral home, but on a deeper level, it comes to represent the plight of Paddy himself. Through a run of tragedies and awful luck, he has become something of a dead man himself, walking around listlessly through a life he long ago stopped caring about, and the four days of the title represent not just the actual impending death to Paddy’s actions, but the beginning of his rebirth as a man with hope and courage. What happens in these four days are intense, funny, frightening and even, against all cynicism, quite life affirming. At the beginning of the novel, Paddy, as I mentioned, is drifting through life, avoiding dealing with the grief of his wife’s death two years earlier by living vicariously through others. But on this particular October day, the world has other things planned for the complacent Paddy. After a strange sexual encounter with a recent widow, one that ends in the widow’s death mid-coitus, Paddy, shaken by the incident, accidently runs over a man on the road after he fails to turn on his lights. To make matters worse, as if there is anything worse than killing someone, the person he has just run down is Donal Cullen, brother of Vincent Cullen, Dublin’s king of the underworld and resident bogeyman. Paddy escapes the scene without being notices, but gets the shock of his life the next morning when Vincent shows up wanting Paddy to arrange his brother’s funeral. What strikes the reader first is how detached Paddy is from his fate at the hand of Cullen. Even with the threat of death hanging over his head, and a few staggering mix-ups with other funerals (which I won’t reveal here), he has a strange, scary sense of calm that allows him to think things through more thoroughly, if not with passion, but that all changes when he meets Brigid, the daughter of the widow he just slept with, who he falls in love with at first sight. It then becomes a race to make things right, and salvage the lives caught in the web of violence he has created. Surprisingly unique and affecting, with a perfect, bittersweet end, this novel never fails to entertain and enlighten the reader, and announces a forceful new voice in the literary world.