The Blocks review: Psalms of degradation, psalms of exaltation

Karl Parkinson’s fiercely original debut justifies comparisons with Jack Kerouac

Karl Parkinson: his work is smelted from ore of an uncommon kind

Karl Parkinson: his work is smelted from ore of an uncommon kind

Karl Parkinson’s debut novel is a double rarity: first because the author was brought up in Dublin’s notorious corporation blocks, and second for its defiant visionary style.

Kenny Thomson, born and raised in the Blocks (Ballymun, later O’Devaney Gardens), tells his life story to the world, and does so in an unrelenting phonetic transcription of the inner-city dialect. This takes a risk: the Dublin accent in print is often a cue for laughter (as on overheardindublin.com) or can come across as condescending. It’s not the only risk Parkinson takes, and he makes them all pay off.

Kenny begins his story at the beginning, with his earliest memories as a toddler. He has a fiercely burning imagination which warps the narrative. His world contains visits to the granny and his da’s drug-taking, but also ‘glooptings’ and a talking bee. There’s nothing cutesy about this: these are rather demonic manifestations. We quickly intuit that in young Kenny’s mind the glooptings represent chaos, depression, abuse and all the evil influences of the Blocks.

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