Digging into the darkness of the young male psyche: Here Are the Young Men
Rob Doyle’s book is a rough but powerful debut, maybe the first novel since Kevin Power’s ‘Bad Day in Blackrock’ to interrogate the dark side of the young Irish male’s psyche
Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Here Are the Young Men
978 1 84351 619 4
A Clockwork Orange, Less Than Zero, Trainspotting, Fight Club: delinquent fiction warrants a bookshelf of its own. Rob Doyle’s debut novel, Here Are the Young Men, merits special attention because its teenage wasteland is set not in London, Glasgow or the Bronx but in the Dart-line spine of boom-time Dublin.
The book’s main protagonists, Matthew, Rez and Kearney, are lost boys run amok on Pleasure Island. They have no adult role models bar old punks and drunks. They gorge on drugs, booze, video games, snuff films and hard-core porn. In their eyes 9/11 was an atrocity exhibition, Columbine a black comedy, the Iraq War cathode eye candy. They are sick with self-loathing, given to nihilistic acts of violence, prey to suicidal impulses.
Sex, the ultimate cheap teenage kick, has become a rehash of porn scenarios: “He kept seeing flickers in Julie of film-sex, responses downloaded from beautiful actresses. It was the over-eager way she contorted her body, the hyperbole in her whispered incitements and dirty words. He felt like he was having sex with a hologram.”
Such subject matter might be standard fare for the old brutalist school – Irvine Welsh, Bret Easton Ellis, Dennis Cooper – but it’s still relatively unbroken ground in Irish fiction. Here Are the Young Men is set in 2003, when Tiger cubs were more likely to plug into the first-person shooter or get hammered in a sports bar than bother with books. Publishers lamented 15- to 30-year-old Irish men as a literary black hole, but few Irish novels of the time spoke to or for them.
Doyle acknowledges the rub in a passage that is tragically, comically typical of most schoolboys’ response to curriculum fiction, in this case Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “On the day Mr Foley stood before them and read aloud its opening line (something about marriage, manners and money – the typical shit of literature), Kearney’s eyes widened in a sudden, powerful realisation of the colossal boredom they were about to be put through . . . The Novel was so radically, suffocatingly boring that it became, paradoxically, an object of fascination . . . The Novel was not only regarded as a classic, it was popular as well – people actually liked this shit.
“Whenever Kearney tried to read a paragraph, his brain would short-circuit, feelings of rage and inadequacy would consume him, and he would have an unnervingly vivid sense of how utterly different he was from the rest of the species, from official humanity.”
Doyle’s characters aren’t stupid: they’re lost and bored. They think too much: such men are dangerous. “My mind is a virus,” Rez writes in his notebook, “and it attacks me every minute of the day.”
Here Are the Young Men probably won’t go down well in polite society. It’s not the stuff of book-club cheese-and-wine soirees. The average reader might feel like taking a bath after reading certain passages, particularly those concerning Kearney, a character so unsympathetic even his pals reject him. So be it: brutalism is a young man’s game.
The 20-year-old might read this book for transgressive kicks; the older male will take it as a lament for the blank generation, the literary equivalent of the song from which it takes its name, Joy Division’s Decades.
Either way it’s a rough but powerful debut, maybe the first novel since Kevin Power’s Bad Day in Blackrock to interrogate the dark side of the young Irish male’s psyche, and brave enough not to play it for laughs.