Saturday, March 27, 2010

Up the Downey Staircase

Cursed by a grim climate, an incomprehensible local dialect and a violent culture of street theatre, Derry is a great place to come from if you're in the arts. Ireland's best playwright, best lyrical poets, greatest rock band and two of my favourite Irish novelists are from Northern Ireland's "second city". (Although technically with two cathedrals and a history dating back several millennia Armagh has more of a claim to the whole second city title, but let's not get bogged down in trivialities).
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The playwright is Brian Friel, the band is The Undertones, the poets are Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane and the novelists are Brian McGilloway who I reviewed in this blog last year and Garbhan Downey of whom I shall speak now. Garbhan was born in Derry in the year England won the World Cup which is the kind of curse no Irishman can ever really recover from. After a bold attempt to become a professional student he took the perfect yin-yang career choice by working for the Derry News (a propaganda arm of the PIRA)* and Radio Foyle (a propaganda arm of the Ministry of Defence)*. He started publishing brilliant, satirical novels in the early 2000's and his latest one The American Envoy arrived on my doorstep yesterday. I read it last night and I was laughing so hard that at several points in the evening my wife reminded me of my "family history of heart attacks".
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It's the story of Dave Schumann an American Consul who has been punished for an off colour Bill Clinton impersonation by being sent to Derry. We know immediately that he is either a false narrator or that his sanity is in question: "The city itself is stunningly beautiful and as for the people - by God, they're hospitable." Rather like Clarissa, The American Envoy is an epistolary novel, although unlike Clarissa it is funny, fast, believable and a brisk 181 pages. Schumann gets involved with drug dealers, egomaniacal Radio DJ's, and terrorists, which of course is as it should be since that pretty much covers all the career choices available in the city on the Foyle. You can get The American Envoy on Amazon.co.uk and with the pound on its knees, even with international shipping its a great deal.
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*I'm kidding.