The latest Ross O'Carroll-Kelly book, like a middle-aged man getting out of bed in the morning, is slow to start, which is apt given that Game of Throw-ins is about Ross's mid-life crisis. He is 35 and feeling the loss of all potential never realised.
His mid-life crisis is explored through a perfect storyline that maintains its credibility. Ross goes back playing rugby with an AIL Division 2B side who are bottom of the league. His fellow players are in their late teens, early twenties, and the contrast of generations is portrayed nicely through their ripped bodies, their young concerns and musical tastes. There is an irony in Ross trying to regain his youth given that he has never grown up – the man-child remains trapped between youth and maturity. The storyline is very funny and genuinely moving. There is much fun with the slang used now compared to Ross’s heyday.
One of the great joys of the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly books is the rendering of accents phonetically. The southside, the northside and the hybrid of the two, in his son Ronan’s accent.
There are times when it reads like a type of poetry, as in the rendering of the Kiwi coach’s speech: “Unfortunately, we don’t have a soyniors toym thus year. We’ve got a thirds toyum – the Thirstoy Thirds. They troyn on Froydoys – that’s uf enough of them shoy ap.”
This playing with stereotypes through language reaches another level when he (or his creator Paul Howard) is writing dialogue for the Cork team they are playing: “Oh, tis mighty fun we’ll have this day, swatting them away like harvest midges dying for the want of a bite!”
Then Ross says, “Or maybe that’s just what I hear when people from the country talk.”
But the rest of the exchanges during the match are presented in this way:
“The crow’s curse on you!”
“Upon my word, you’re a polished trickster.”
“. . . may there never be enough of your people to make a half-set.”
They talk like some madey-up Irishy people from 100 years ago.
There is a lovely exchange between Ross and the Kiwi coach about the dark arts of the scrum that underlines the relativity of voice yet captures the sense we all have that our own voice represents the objective point of view:
“The daahk aahts.”
“Are you trying to say dork orts?”
“Exictloy. The daahk aahts.”
The dark arts in rugby are cleverly mirrored by the dark arts in business. (Ross receives his dark art tips from his business friend who lost a fortune in the boom but who is now in Qatar wheeling and dealing his way back). There are the dark machinations of Ross’s mother and how she stole a flower shop from her employer and left her financially broken. Or his daughter who he remarks “. . . spends so much of her life doing evil that you forget sometimes that she’s still just a little girl with feelings, the same as everyone else”.
The theme of going back in time to the good old days is mirrored in the return to prosperity, one sign of which is that, “. . . her sandwich came served on a table-tennis bat with the rubber torn of it”. Suddenly it feels like 2002 again.
The theme of dishonesty in business is mirrored in Ross’s hilarious sexual escapades, one of which leads the women in question tearing “open the fly of my tux trousers like an Irish emigrant with a bag of focking Tayto”. Ross never comes out smelling of roses, whether it’s young women’s withering assessments of his age or reviews of his performance. Yet there is something about Ross that you can’t help rooting for, even when he’s in the middle of rooting people he should not be rooting.
There are plenty of clever storylines – the Love/Hate meta story is great – and enough plot twists to fill a soap opera while the book ends on a cliff-hanger. Ross is the star and one of the reasons is, as he says to his long-suffering wife, "I call as I see Sorcha, I call as I see." He provides an honesty that is ironic given it comes from such a dishonest and deceitful person.
Like Homer Simpson there is an innocence in his stupidity. And he keeps going no matter what.
This is sharp satire that manages the difficult trick of creating characters we care about. It is a very funny book, often hilarious, providing storylines that mostly keep the page-turning going. Yet it has a genuine heart of darkness hidden beneath the layers of craic, great gags, great storytelling and human warmth. In this way, Ross O’Carroll-Kelly is Ireland.
Kevin Gildea is a comedian and a critic