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Keith Ridgway: The Parts

The blurb on my copy says that this is the best comic novel since At Swim Two Birds. It isn’t. Indeed, I wouldn’t even consider it a comic novel. It’s not a bad book at all but not a great one. There are several things going on. First, we have three stories that we know are going to converge and, indeed, they do. Secondly, virtually all the main characters have major problems, many, though not all, of which are connected to their inability to make and/or hold relationships. They struggle throughout the book and generally come out behind (or dead). Thirdly, hovering in the background is some kind of conspiracy theory. We get hints of it early on and though we get some answers, Ridgway generally dodges this one, leaving us pretty well unsatisfied. Finally, this is a book where Dublin is a key character, not the Dublin of that book but, as Ridgway puts it, the underbelly of Dublin, particularly but certainly not exclusively the gay scene.

The first story tells of Fidelma Gilmore, known as Delly, who uses her maiden name of Roche. Delly is the widow of Daniel Gilmore, a pharmaceutical magnate, who was killed in a helicopter crash at their mansion outside Dublin. Delly was the first on the scene of the crash and saw that her husband had been decapitated, but not very neatly. She left Ireland soon afterwards, travelling around, living in the USA, France and elsewhere, only returning when she is dying of colon cancer. She now lives in the mansion, wishing for death and totally unsure of what is going on around her, not least because of the drugs she is given for her illness. Also in the mansion are the security guards, whom we barely see, the Cotter family, Kitty Flood and George Addison-Blake. Mr. and Mrs. Cotter look after the property, with the help of their two adult sons, who also deal in drugs and pornography. Kitty Flood has been a successful novelist. She met Delly in New York, became her friend and has lived with her ever since (more than twenty years). She has written virtually nothing since but eats a lot and is enormous. George is the adopted son of Delly and Daniel Gilmore (though only adopted a week before Daniel’s death). He was dumped at a hospital as a baby as he had a rare and incurable blood disease. Fortunately, Gilmore Pharmaceuticals had developed a cure, tested it on him and it succeeded. Eventually, the Gilmores adopted him. He has since become a doctor and chemist and is now looking after Delly. He is also up to no good, though details only gradually become clear. They include muscling in on the Cotter boys’ drugs and porno racket but there is clearly something else, all part of the grand conspiracy.

The second group is Joe Kavanagh and Barry. Joe is a late night DJ – trendy music, interview with C list celebrities and phone-in chats. Barry is his producer. Joe’s wife walked out on him. He now has trouble connecting with his five year old daughter and, indeed, with anyone, except for Barry and those he talks to on his radio show. Barry is gay but jumps from one partner to another, never finding satisfaction and is generally unhappy with his life, his apartment, his neighbours and Joe. The final story is about Kevin. We know he is different as he has a sans serif typeface for his story, at least when he is on his own, while the others have a serif typeface. Kevin is a rent boy and generally happy with his life, though a loner. His main problem is violent clients, particularly Americans.

The plot does not really get going for a bit. Delly is looking forward to dying, Kitty is eating, George is up to something, Kevin is doing the business (his term, not mine) and Joe and Barry are miserable. Joe decides to move away from C list celebrities to interviewing real people from the underbelly of Dublin – junkies, rent boys and the like. No guessing who they find to be the rent boy. Barry falls for Kevin but, at the same time, the conspiracy – which seems to involve some sort of drug developed by Gilmore which can make whole populations forget key events – ratchets up a notch. It all goes pear-shaped, with bodies all over the place and no-one happy at the end. Not a bad at all but not a great one.

Publishing history

First published in 2003 by Faber and Faber