Once the internet was merely a rumour, said to exist only on a few computers, and the minds behind Apple were already being written off as “on their way out”. It is January 1995 and young Dubliners Milo and Evan have emigrated to a San Francisco where dotcom companies are beginning to boom and, as Evan puts it, “the meek were about to inherit the earth”. There the friends grow up and grow apart in a year of sunshine, drugs and occasional menial employment, but California’s deceptively easy lifestyle and get-rich-quick mantra come at a price. The first novel by the screenwriter John Butler, The Tenderloin is a coming-of-age tale made dark by the spectre of Faustian consequence. Narrated in a snappy, engaging tone, it has a keen sense of place and an eye for the comic as well as the tragic. For these innocents abroad there will be no easy certainties, only a bleak realisation that ultimately “we’re all lost”.
Dead Water sails into that stormiest of seas, the Indian Ocean, to explore the murky depths of the shipping business along with those of its latter-day evil twin, piracy. In this highly ambitious, hugely entertaining novel – part sci-fi fable, part cold-war mystery, part ghost story, part hymn to the complexity of wave theory – Ings weaves multiple plots together, plunging the reader into a vortex of countercurrents from the opening page. The choppiness is dizzying, perhaps even irritating. Stick with it, though. You’ll be rewarded with such engaging characters as Roopa Vish, the Indian police probationer who ends up in bed with the gangster she’s investigating, and Eric Moyse, the shipping magnate who comes up with a wheeze for hiding the planet’s most toxic substances. The locations, from rambunctious Mumbai to odd Oman, are portrayed with visceral vividness, and so is the action, which includes a train crash and a tsunami. After reading this, you’ll never drink water with quite the same insouciance again.
Liberator: The Life and Death of Daniel O’Connell 1830-1847
Patrick M Geoghegan
Gill Macmillan, €14.99
Geoghegan’s second volume of his biography of O’Connell does not disappoint. More than volume one, it focuses “intensely on the character of O’Connell”. That character Geoghegan considers Promethean because of “his determination to always follow his own path and do whatever he decided was right”. Such a disposition helped him to endure fierce personal abuse and huge setbacks, all of which are thoroughly documented here. But a man so convinced of his own righteousness could be very difficult to work with, and his many rows with fellow nationalists are given a comprehensive airing. His clash with the independently minded Young Irelanders led to the demise of the repeal movement. Geoghegan argues that to view O’Connell’s nationalism as sectarian is “to misread profoundly what Ireland was like in the 19th century”. O’Connell opposed slavery not because of its damaging effect on slave owners but because he believed it was wrong to enslave a human being. The father of Irish democracy has been well served by his latest biographer.
Virago Modern Classics, £9.99
Vita Sackville-West reluctantly cancelled the English publication of Challenge in 1920 to avoid a scandal: her second novel drew on her affair with Violet Trefusis, and their husbands had just persuaded the two childhood friends to return home after an elopement to France. First published in England in 1974 and newly reissued with an introduction by Stella Duffy, Challenge reimagines their relationship as the heterosexual bond between Julian, the aristocratic young Englishman who leads a group of Greek islanders into rebellion, and Eve, his even younger cousin. The colonial scenes are suitably suffocating, and the novel effectively contrasts the principled but impulsive politics of Julian (Vita) with the push-me-pull-you passion he shares with Eve (Violet). But while the apparent intention was to record the nobility of their affair, the author’s sense of place and fondness for the dialogue of emotional power-play make it more like a jealousy-infused delirium.
Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead
Most rock journalists have reams of interview transcripts that never make it into the finished article. Neil Strauss has more taped material than most, having interviewed hundreds of rock, pop, rap and country legends – not to mention a few movie stars – for such publications as Rolling Stone and the New York Times. Now he’s trawled through his old tapes, picked out the most revealing bits and spliced them into an entertaining stream of musings and rants. Alex Chilton recalls a creepy encounter with the Manson family, Snoop Dogg takes Strauss on a white-knuckle drive to buy nappies, Prince pulls him into a back room and gives him hell, Brian Wilson lets his wife do all the talking and Tom Cruise punches a clock. A mad mix tape of words and weirdness. KEVIN COURTNEY