Sunday, 22 June 2008
Leaving Ardglass by William King
‘A DREADFUL cry pierces the air; a cry that still, on occasions, works its way into my dreams, and causes me to start up in the bed.
It’s the pivotal moment in William Hill’s novel of brown envelopes and priests and tribunals.
The narrator is working on his brother’s building sites in London. This brother is MJ Galvin, later to face accusations of offshore bank accounts and unethical relations with government ministers.
The book starts with the murmuring confidences of Monsignor Thomas Galvin, then dives backwards into 1950s London, when young Tomasín leaves Kerry to join his brother.
He works on the building of roads and suburbs and infrastructure. After he’s roughened his hands, MJ puts him to paying the truckers: get an invoice for £120, pay out £100 with a wink.
There are dead men working on the sites: the builder gets a contract for 40 men and employs 35, putting the wages of the five ‘dead men’ in his pocket.
Galvin’s friend is Deano, a kid who came from nothing and is studying to be a vet, working summers on the sites. “The brass plate on the front door this time next year,” Deano gloats.
But the brass plate is on his coffin after he plunges from the scaffolding when some fool removes a plank from under the tarp.
King, who is himself a priest in Dublin, then lays in a long dull account of a brilliant student for the priesthood, the road to the bishop’s palace, the prize stolen at the last moment by a sleeveen.
But in the opening half of the novel - those dark London stories lit by the chiarascuro of corruption and bitterness - this is a vivid story.