Going Back review: A welcome return to a Pure Mule character

Eugene O’Brien’s sequel focuses on Scobie Donoghue and proves genial company

Going Back
Author: Eugene O’Brien
ISBN-13: 978-0717194278
Publisher: Gill
Guideline Price: €16.99

When a popular story is continued many years later, it has to justify its existence as something new. It can’t just be pandering fan service.

Going Back continues the TV series Pure Mule, a hit show in 2005. This book focuses primarily on Scobie Donoghue, a devil-may-care lad who loved chasing skirt and guzzling pints. In the series, he slept with Deirdre, a local garda’s wife but, ultimately, raucous Scobie was lovable.

Here we find him about to turn 40, returning home from Oz after a relationship’s dissolution. Moving back in with his mother, Scobie resumes his roguish ways but what passed for fun in his 20s now seems borderline tragic.

O’Brien highlights the drastic changes since the Celtic Tiger. The crash has ravaged the town, its youth succumbing to criminality. Needing to feel needed, a Xanax-addicted Scobie quixotically tries to shepherd local youngster Robbie. Deirdre is miraculously still with her garda husband, Eamon, but has a gambling addiction.

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Comedic novel

Happily, after some callbacks, a propulsive story announces itself thanks to a worthy antagonist in Garda Delaney – Eamon’s colleague – who’s grooming Deirdre’s daughter. This comedic novel can be hard-edged, doing a good job of tightening the screw on the characters.

It’s also pleasingly humanistic, not ideological. Here the regressive and the progressive collide. During a doomed attempt to pull an unattractive girl, Scobie says something offensive and gets reproached by his more enlightened friend. Women’s rights and sexual mores have evolved since 2005. A sensitively handled abortion storyline is powerfully convincing on why women need the right to choose. Still, when the girl’s father reveals he’s pro-life, vilification doesn’t follow.

This unostentatious book’s flaws are mainly cosmetic and don’t hinder your enjoyment as it rips along. The close third-person narration shifts perspective awkwardly sometimes, dipping tentatively into more peripheral character’s subjectivity. The book’s tone is amiably knockabout, its many colloquialisms only occasionally bordering on irksome “Oirish”.

The third act, though, has issues. Once the more dynamic plot is resolved, the focus becomes Scobie’s inner journey, his demons. While heartfelt, this isn’t as absorbing as what preceded. Flashbacks slacken the pace as O’Brien dutifully brings closure to each thread.

But, like a raconteur at the bar, even though he can stray into the tangential, you enjoy the genial company.