Éilis from the Flats: Powerful depictions of urban poverty

Book review: Unanswered questions mean potential is unrealised in Paul Larkin’s novel

Edgy urban setting of Dublin is vividly evoked. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Edgy urban setting of Dublin is vividly evoked. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

“Is it not blindingly obvious that I’m suffering from civic grief?” Éilis, the 16-year-old mystic at the centre of Paul Larkin’s countercultural and confounding new novel, asks a psychoanalyst. She’s referencing Dostoevsky – like others in the book, she’s a fan – but she’s also giving voice to one of the novel’s recurring themes. Civic grief is pervasive among Larkin’s characters as they navigate their turbulent, overlapping worlds: Dublin’s gangland; a doomed complex of flats; a myopic public service television station.

Éilis from the Flats comprises an ambitious mosaic of perspectives: whistleblowers; bureaucrats; goths; powerful and small-time criminals; ordinary, well-intentioned people living in Dublin’s neglected north inner city. Some of these are more credible than others. The young protagonist – a faith healer and gaeilgeoir as well as a seer – remains an enigma despite or because of the consistent emphasis on her beauty, intelligence, idealism and charisma.

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