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Book Review by Roslyn Fuller - The Avenue By James Lawless (Wordsonthestreet)

Last update - Saturday, October 15, 2011, 10:03 By Metro Éireann

Franky, a shy thirty- or forty-something librarian, has spent his entire life on ‘The Avenue’, somewhere presumably in a less affluent part of Dublin. Having devoted his younger years to caring for his depressed father, Franky married young to the older Myrtle to avoid the scandal of a child born out of wedlock, and has shuffled along ever since, engaged in retiring activities like gardening and reading.

But when a set of go-go dancers comes to the local pub and Franky discovers a wad of heroin stuffed inside a soccer ball, things begin to change. He must defeat the evil cider-drinkers terrorising the neighbourhood, liberate the go-go dancers from their pimps, find out whatever happened to his and Myrtle’s miscarried child, help his assistant librarian find true love, and free himself from Myrtle and her evil cohort Ida.
This is an extremely localised story, in which the miserable lives of The Avenue’s inhabitants are exposed. I found the relationships between men and women most striking, with women near universally being portrayed as aggressive (man-hating lesbians Ida and Myrtle), deceitful (go-go dancer Judy and her drug-dealing mother), or cynical nymphomaniacs (terminally-ill Noreen).
The men, on the other hand, tend to come across as the helpless victims of feminine wiles: Franky’s father and one of his neighbours completely unable to cope with the deaths of their wives; the assistant librarian Michael naively caught in Judy’s toils; and Franky himself trapped in endless servitude to Myrtle.
It’s as if the men, unable to deal with life, have handed control to the women who either fail to take them into any further consideration, or ultimately abandon them through death.
I have observed this underlying hostility between the genders in Ireland for many years, and it was interesting to see it come through in a novel. Of course, Franky ultimately finds his backbone, turning a tale that is otherwise grim ultimately triumphal.
The Avenue is a very well written and well-produced novel, steering clear of both misery memoir and nostalgic glorification, and the narrator Franky has an utterly credible voice. It was pretty page-turning and struck me as a much better portrayal of Irish life in transition from traditional to modern than many a more self-consciously reminiscent tale.
If you want to see the world your Irish contemporaries are coming from, you really could do a lot worse than The Avenue. I’d be inclined to take it over many a celebrated bestseller.

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