Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary – Book Review
The debut novel from Dublin-born, Brooklyn-based actor-turned-writer proves a noble entry in the world of literary fiction ****
Inside of you a howl of feeling started just under the surface, an alone feeling you couldn’t keep from yourself.
Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary is a keen study into the mind of an emotionally neglected teenage boy in 1980s Dublin. Sonny hails from the wrong side of the tracks but unlike his brothers, he attends a ‘good school.’ He has an artistic disposition but having no creative outlet, his need for expression becomes an angry force inside of him. His world is inhabited by emotionally stunted men with mottled faces and women who make chips and wait at the net curtains for their husbands to come home from Paddy Powers. Sonny’s tenderness for his mother is met with hostility, born out of a long-harboured resentment towards all men via his father. He longs to ‘fix it’ but the politics of the family is far beyond repair. His brothers are never mentioned by name; merely ominous presences that lurk in the shadows, thickening the air with testosterone and fury.
Sonny is a largely uneducated boy whose aspirations of owning his own book are ridiculed by his family (‘books were not for boys who cut meat.’). His mother is a Philistine, his father a boorish alcoholic, a ‘country man’ who never felt at home in Dublin. His brothers are no less sympathetic to his artistic leanings. Sonny dreams of being a painter (of pictures, not of walls) but is doomed to become a butcher’s apprentice. God forbid he had notions ‘beyond his stations,’ as the Irish phrase goes. Geary’s choice to narrate Montpelier Parade through Sonny’s eyes is a clever move, tricking the reader into believing that this is a love story of equals. It is not. In fact, in a sort of role reversal, Sonny is the one who nurtures Vera when she is sick, the one who tidies her house and visits her in the hospital. But equals they are not. Vera manipulates Sonny’s obsession for her. She uses him for her sexual gratification (their dalliance is a sort of a last hurrah) and though there is an unexpected bond that develops between then, it is not a love of equals (‘Oh, darling….This isn’t love. You need to know that.’) Vera grossly underestimates the collateral damage she leaves behind and she selfishly fuels Sonny’s infatuation, not accounting for the impact her death would have on an emotionally immature teenage boy. Her decision to pursue their sexual relationship, in a way, is an act of savagery and Sonny’s revelation that Vera was merely ‘passing through’ doesn’t seem to make it any easier to swallow. In contrast to the visceral decapitation of Mr. Cosgrave very early on in the novel, Vera’s act of rejection seems to make even more of an impact.
Warped masculinity pervades
The rise of rape culture is a hot topic of conversation right now with films like Audrie and Daisy pushing the issue further into the collective consciousness. The recent revelation that Bernardo Bertolucci conspired with Marlon Brando over the infamous butter scene in Last Tango in Paris was met with such consternation by feminists the world over. This was largely due to the unapologetic admission from the celebrated director. It is this warped sense of masculinity that pervades the atmosphere of Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary; it seeps from Sonny’s every pore. His desire to love and be loved is primal: Feed it and he will flourish, neglect it and he will seek revenge. His interactions with others only result in destruction. He longs for tenderness from his father, admiring him silently from afar. His secret desires are inevitably thwarted by the archetypal patriarch. Sonny constantly searches for recognition in those around him, finding only a kindred spirit in Vera’s broken soul. The only other companion that Sonny has is Sharon, a hopeless teenager ever teetering on the precipice of womanhood, dating men old enough to be her father, all the while longing for a sliver of tenderness and looking in all the wrong places. Sonny’s need for love is constantly met with rejection and is displaced into anger – he seeks retribution for anything that has gone against him. He confronts Vera’s doctor for giving a suicidal woman enough pills to carry out an overdose, he can’t help but rise to the verbal goading from the school prefect. His concept of love is grossly skewed, so much so that when watching a film he identifies with the murdering protagonist, believing that ‘he loved her, right up to the end, even when he covered her face with a pillow and held it there until she died.’
Second person narrative is immersing
Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary is written in the second person narrative, a device even avid readers like myself are unfamiliar (read: uncomfortable) with. Recently I was given a copy of Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light, a fictional look into the life of Molly Allgood, the muse and lover of J.M. Synge. I felt like I should love the novel. I love the theatre, I was an actress in a former life, I adore Synge’s plays but I could not take to the over-usage of the second person narrative. I felt it distancing, self-referencing, too intellectual for me. And O’Connor doesn’t employ sole use of the second person narrative, frequently dropping into the first and third person, presumably to represent Molly’s stream of consciousness, the ramblings of an old mind. I decided that it was the structure that I didn’t like, having enjoyed several other of O’Connor’s novels. So when I opened the first page of Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary and saw the second person narrative, I dreaded what was to come. Initially, I balked but after twenty or so pages I actually began to enjoy the structure. The voice was both apart from and a part of Sonny. Told from any other perspective, Sonny’s character may have come across as petulant, violent and selfish but the second person narrative implicates the reader and I believes, draws her closer to Sonny. No mean feat, the second person is a bold move by Geary and it pays off. It places the action in the immediate so we are experiencing Sonny’s turbulent emotions and visceral reactions in real time, something the retrospective voice simply could not allow. It certainly sets Geary apart: Will he develop and hone this narrative voice? Only time will tell.
The verdict? A moving story about broken human beings, the detriments of empathy and the follies of neglecting our youth.
Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary is out today, January 5th, 2017.