It seems like the fun jaunts I had through Dublin go way back to J.P. Donleavy, and maybe I just haven’t been reading enough Irish authors lately, but A Modern Journey (2016) reminded me what a great backdrop Dublin is for a good farce and an adventure.
Perhaps A Modern Journey is more than just a farce, or maybe that is the way of all picaresque novels. If you find in its raffishness some fleeting resemblance to The Ginger Man or A Confederacy of Dunces, I did as well, and give us another novel like that, because they are always a good read.
When one thinks about a novel, one cannot truly pass judgment right after reading it. You have to wait to see if it sticks. Can you remember anything about it after a month? In this case, weeks on, I remembered the catacombs of Ireland and Ambrose sitting up on the Head overlooking the city; the falling houses of her aristocracy and the idiocy of the situation. Ambrose who has been touched by God upon the heights overlooking Dublin comes down to lead her people back to piety. Modern day Dublin has quite probably lost the sense of magic needed to recognize divinity in her ranks. Or maybe it was never there. There’s a song about Jesus describing his possible reception if he were to appear among us:
Long hair beard and sandals,
And a funky bunch of friends,
RECKON THEY’D JUST NAIL HIM UP,
if he come down again.
That pretty well summarizes what Ambrose is up against, and he is not even the son of God.
Turner ventures to suggest what a modern saint might look like if he walked among us today, and how he might be received. The “didn’t fit in a school” kid from a Dublin suburb naturally brings his own baggage with him as he emerges to lead Ireland. Stinking in a dirty white designer track suit that his mother bought him, for of course he’s not in 14th century Reims. If he talks as if he’s wasted too much of his youth playing MMORPG’s (look it up), he’s not the only one. This is our age. And of course, most everyone has a healthy dose of pessimism nowadays. Fortunately there is the internet to help a modern day prophet spread the word.
Turner is an outstanding wordsmith. The quality of his writing is a pleasure. Maybe he could have dialed back some of the more preposterous pronouncements of Ambrose, but only because they slacken the pace. Then again, I have a vague memory of Ignatius J. Reilly going on a bit, and I’ve grown to treasure the single and singular work of J.K. Toole.
Dublin is also an excellent background to explore the direction of modern Ireland. Sure, things are changing. Though it might be a soft sell, Turner explores the diverse perspectives of the clergy, the aristocracy, the middle class, the low and the high. The cultural cohesiveness as well as the piety of Ireland’s people is being cast aside, and no one seems to have any idea whether this is for the better. Things used to be more simple.
And for those who skimmed ahead, the shorter version is, yes, this is a highly recommended read that paints modern Dublin in an interesting light and will give you ideas to play with. MGM and Paramount are reportedly in a bidding war for the film rights, but that may only be a rumour!
This review originally appeared in the Quarterly Review.
…........................................................................................- James Connor is the Editor-at-Large for the Connor Post.