Ciaran McMenamin — Skintown

Being a young person, I have a busy life of drinking and drugging and dancing and joyriding and just plain riding too. How do I fit in the time to read books, you may ask. Well, the answer is simple; I always keep my book-holding hand free.

Next question. Where can I read about the things that matter to me, about my life and my aforementioned pursuits? Who speaks for me?

Ciaran McMenamin is an actor from Enniskillen and Skintown is his first novel. It’s the energetic and well-told story of Vinny, a late-teenage boy engrossed in the typical activities of the younger male (see above) and who gets involved in an episode that unfolds over several epic nights out. Through Vinny we get spun up in a kaleidoscopic vortex of boy racers, illegal raves, drunken bonding and close shaves. Plus, there’s some fishing.

This being a tale set in Northern Ireland in the mid-90s, the dread hand of the Troubles looms large overhead, just as the other hand lurks unseen beneath. McMenamin is good at showing both sides: the attractive, bravado-fuelled, adrenaline-pumping police chases and gang mentality; the repellent, sinister and banal consequences of horrific violence. In that respect it shares something with a classic Northern Irish novel of that period: Robert McLiam Wilson’s fantastic Eureka Street.

McMenamin is an actor and Vinny’s narration is a spoken-word performance, all frenzied bluster and smart-arse quips and pop-cultural detail, shot through with insight and clever analogies. The mysteries of father-son estrangement and national identity are all neatly resolved with one pithy quip about Ryan Giggs, Manchester United’s flying winger of the time. Giggs’s spiritual forefather, Belfast lad George Best, gets an inevitable mention. So does Best’s snooker counterpart Alex Higgins, in a brief anecdotal cameo about the tragedy of hero worship and pissing your talent and youthful promise away.

From front to back cover Skintown is engaging and well-written, and packs an emotional wallop too. It’s the most entertaining Irish novel I’ve read so far this year, perhaps even my favourite novel of the year full stop.

Now excuse me while I look for someone to go into the off-licence for me.

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