Rory Gleeson, Rockadoon Shore (John Murray, £14.99).
Rockadoon Shore, Irish writer Rory Gleeson’s debut novel, makes use of its form somewhat atypically: not only are we presented with a large cast of main characters and relatively few side-characters, but we are allowed inside the heads of all the main characters in a revolving carousel of voices, and each character’s story is both broken up and completed by the other characters. The novel has no obvious plot, the main narrative tension happening relatively early in the story, and yet we continue reading in the hopes that the characters can overcome the barriers between them and gain more of an understanding of one another.
This stepping stone effect of alternating between narrator could prove messy and confusing, however Gleeson creates a distinctive voice for each character, both in internal monologue and dialogue, so that down to their laughter they can be differentiated. My favourite voice was that of JJ, a character that almost everyone knows or will have known at some point in their life. In fact, I felt that each of Gleeson’s characters was close to someone I recognised in my own life, without them appearing stereotypical or two-dimensional, as can easily happen in novels or particularly television programs about characters of this generation, where characters are labelled as one type of person. JJ is uncomfortable with his label as the group’s stoner, and while more than just a stoner, but he does smoke weed, something which Gleeson reflects in his language in JJ’s sections, particularly when he is first introduced,
The short sentences create a rapid fire of thoughts, rattled off one after another, as well as the feeling that these thoughts are not fully formed. JJ shifts in and out of highs throughout the novel, and his sections are some of the funniest.
Gleeson manages to effectively capture the breakdown of friendships post-university. Having recently graduated myself, I could relate to the attempt to contain their friendships. However, these characters, brought together by chance, are not a typical friendship group, and their personalities clash. Even over the course of the two and a half days we spend with the characters, we see their group begin to fracture. This could be down to the fact that Gleeson’s characters are not nice people, as he has mentioned in previous interviews. They are self-absorbed and selfish, and this makes their lack of understanding even greater than it would be in the average group of friends.
I was initially uncomfortable around Malachy, the elderly neighbour of the friends who arrives at their house with a gun. The reader is aligned with Malachy as both he and us are voyeurs, watching and listening to the young friends from the outside. At first it seems as if his character is only there to provide a dramatic moment around which the other six core characters can explode, therefore it is strange that readers are allowed a glimpse into Malachy’s thoughts. However, as the novel progresses Malachy is developed into an entity of his own. The group’s arrival unsettles Malachy and sends his thought’s spiralling, causing him to question what he’s done with his life. Malachy is at his best then, when he becomes more than just a voyeur. Malachy can be seen as representing the world around the six friends, and they profoundly affect both him and their world while their self-absorbed natures prevent them from realising it.
Drawing the attention of Malachy in the novel’s opening section, Cath seems like our focal point, but as the story progresses we begin to lose her in the tangle of other voices. While she returns to frame the story at the novel’s close, this lack of focus on her signifies that this story is not a typical novel, not progressing or offering the type of closure that readers might expect, as well as the fact that each character in the group is focused on themselves, and therefore the group cannot have one focal point. By refusing to have one clear or dominant narrator, or one character who is more likable than the rest, Gleeson answers this question.
Each reader is likely to be drawn most to a different character and for me, this character was Steph. Seen as aloof by the others, Steph is actually afraid of her coldness, and worries that she cannot form a meaningful connection with another person.
This isolation is one of the key themes of Gleeson’s novel, as his self-absorbed characters struggle to see beyond themselves, despite constantly wondering what other characters think of them, though they rarely gain answers. Gleeson’s novel calls into question our perception of others, and asks us to give those around us more consideration.