Lisa McInerney’s debut, The Glorious Heresies, was absolutely brilliant; a worthy winner of the Baileys Prize, it interweaved the stories of a number of utterly convincing characters in the drug-dealing underbelly of Cork while also daring to experiment with prose. The Glorious Heresies centred on Ryan, who is only fifteen years old at the start of the novel, but is already being drawn into organised crime. Yet one of its strengths was that Ryan, if the emotional heart of the novel, was not its only focus. Ex-drug addict, ex-prostitute Georgie also narrated sections, while the story of Maureen, the elderly mother of Cork’s most notorious gangster, Jimmy Phelan, added a welcome thread of black humour. I’ve summarised this here because The Blood Miracles is a direct sequel to McInerney’s first novel; and while I enjoyed reading it, I was disappointed that it largely offered more of the same, or at times, a bit less.
Ryan is now twenty years old and is trying to make things right with his long-term girlfriend, Karine, while at the same time, being drawn into arranging further drug shipments by exploiting his Italian connections. A chance to set up a new club night at Catalyst offers a possible opportunity to get back on the straight and narrow, but when Ryan meets the alluring Natalie, even more things start going wrong. Meanwhile, when he bumps into Maureen when he goes on a bender late one night, he risks being drawn back into Phelan’s machinations. Unlike The Glorious Heresies, The Blood Miracles doesn’t suggest there is any real redemption for Ryan, and it’s hard not to agree with Karine’s assessment of him. This robs the novel of much of its tension, as, while we hope Ryan doesn’t manage to get himself killed, there’s little else to root for.
This is partly due to the fact that The Blood Miracles sticks closely to Ryan’s point of view, rather than switching between a range of different characters, which was one of the strengths of The Glorious Heresies. But it’s also due to the characterisation of Ryan himself. About halfway through the novel, he does something so incredibly stupid that he seems to be an entirely different person from the intelligent fifteen-year-old we met at the beginning of the first book. After that, he simply compounds his errors until he manages to get his act together in the closing pages of the novel. Because of this, my sympathy for him was far more limited. Alongside this, McInerney’s writing, while still good, lost some of the sparkle it had had in The Glorious Heresies; she’s reined back the imaginatively crazy extended metaphors and on her personification of the city. I know these passages in the earlier novel were controversial, but I loved them.
McInerney is an accomplished enough writer to pull together an interesting and readable novel despite these faults. However, I hope that her next book takes her into different territory, rather than continuing Ryan’s somewhat burnt-out story.
I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher.