This review mentions"a dream-sequence out of Joni Mitchell's 'California Sunshine'' (whatever that is), but it doesn't say if or how Joni figures in the latest novel from the great Patrick McCabe. If you plan to read it, please make a note of the Joni content and let us know what it is. For what it's worth, here's the review:
Here's to Ireland
Patrick McCabe's humour in Call Me the Breeze disguises a tough treatise on the relationship between the artist and society, says CL Dallat
Saturday September 6, 2003
Who ate all the pies? And can Scotsfield's Joey Tallon really tell us much new about the complex, if predictably depressing, intersections of sex, drugs, skinflicks and paramilitary rackets in a 1970s border town? Fans of Patrick McCabe will have relived 60s Ireland through the endearingly homicidal Francie Brady in The Butcher Boy (1992) and discovered the downside of the 70s through the eyes of student teacher and Charles Manson fan Malachy Dudgeon in The Dead School (1995). Now Joey, his latest spaced-out hunk of mother love, siege-survivor, bystander at terrorist atrocities, graduate of Mountjoy Jail and erstwhile community film-maker, offers a weepingly explosive take on that most distressful border between two unstable political realities.
Joey's present position in a dilapidated caravan on Scotsfield's outskirts, and the events that have led him there, piece themselves together gradually from the excavation of a leatherette holdall of manic scribblings dating back to 1976. This year was remarkable in Joey's book for dropping acid; first seeing De Niro in Taxi Driver; being inducted into the worlds of TS Eliot, John of the Cross, Ginsberg, Tagore and Hesse; proximity to a kangaroo-court execution; and the seismic arrival of Jacy, a dream-sequence out of Joni Mitchell's "California Sunshine".
Subsequent episodes parallel the real-life bombings and shootings that characterised the period, while Joey's pursuit of Jacy remains a figment: and when a peace and reconciliation rally becomes the scene of still further carnage, his Jacy-rescue strategy is, predictably, misunderstood as a terrorist kidnapping. Hence the prison diaries.
This overweight butt of local humour knows too much about the town's darker side and who-was-who back when. Beneath the usual slapstick and skulduggery, Call Me the Breeze is, untypically for McCabe, a tough treatise on the relationship between the artist and society; about nothing less than the obligation to speak. The well-meaning prison governor who includes self-expression in his rehab toolkit is replaced on Joey's release by a creative-writing tutor: a bank clerk whose after-class camaraderie is merely groundwork for his own forthcoming "troubles" epic.
One of the real targets here is the shift from writing as philosophical exploit to the recent autobiographical upsurge. This might be vital to understanding Ireland's mid-century stasis and the more recent maelstrom, but it often peddles populist simplicities. Joey's ability to exploit funding bodies for his community project, the absurd enthusiasm of London publishers for anything Irish, and the mirage of film-backing from U2's Bono tell us much about McCabe's wariness of a smugly hurt Ireland and the gift of "interesting times".
From the cranky neighbour to the dippy friend who finally ODs in Clapham, the supporting cast is well worth watching: the ubiqui tous "Big Fellow" is a version of Damon Runyon's lugubrious white-suited augur of death; cellmate Bonehead's insistence that he's not a "tinker" (despite having a tinker name and being inside for de-leading a church roof) registers a particular local snobbery; and Boyle Henry's sinuous segue between commerce, politics, vice and gangsterism will be familiar to followers of current affairs at local or national level in any country.
Then there's Mona, Joey's caravan companion: an inflatable stand-in for his father's long-dead mistress. The psychological complex characterised by this relationship lacks a Freudian/ classical title only because fin-de-siècle Vienna and the Attic mythologisers lacked the antic decadence of McCabe's borderland. However, Joey's indulgences hardly register on the depravity scale against the power-sex-and-cash nexus that fuels local politics on both sides of the law. Such implacable forces are unlikely to allow the autodidact auteur to shoot his masterpiece, The Animal Pit, a would-be one-man truth and reconciliation process, and Joey ends sadly hoist on his own artform.
McCabe's epistolary method acknowledges the Victorian Irish Gothic of Bram Stoker's Dracula, but his grand-guignol imagination has roots in the primitive harshness of other 20th-century writing from the borderlands. Though our pie-eating, Mohawk-tonsured Candide is second cousin to Ignatius J Reilly of John Kennedy Toole's New Orleans novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, the world he frequents - Doc Oc's, The Ritzy, Lakeland Local Radio and the mobile-home site - nods rather towards the hazily indolent Florida of Thomas McGuane's The Bushwhacked Piano. But the blistering, unmediated rawness owes still more to earlier southern (American) gothic precursors: Carson McCullers, William Faulkner and - most persistently - the Flannery O'Connor of Wise Blood.
If McCabe has earned a reputation as a comically savage truth-teller about a country too often regarded with the deluded fondness of hindsight, Call Me the Breeze is his "To Ireland in the Coming Times", and must be read, not just for its reflections on the unenviable state of the nation or a generalised despair of the human condition at large, but for sheer warped humour.