|Apr/May 2018 Reviews & Interviews|
The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow.
Granta. 2018. 357 pp.
ISBN 978 1 78378 365 6.
"ROLL UP! ROLL UP!
to hear the tale of
RAIN and FIRE—of KID and KING!"
So begins The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow: a Fairground barker's call that in the first two pages promises "to spill the beans about the whole SHITSHOW in Ireland." So "HEAR IT WELL." I was not sure I wanted to be shouted at, but these pages introduce us to Ward, who is one of the Heavy Gang ("under staffed, under gunned, under everything"), an Irishman who has the gift of the gab and can tell a good story sprinkled with Irish humour: "I asked O'Casey at one point, much later: "How much of this is true?." "Oh it's all true," he replied, "I just don't know which bits are made up."
O'Casey is a sinister reporter who secretly listens in on the Earlie Boys and keeps a ledger in which he records the all details of the deaths they cause. He likes to "live the stories as they unfurl, one dark petal at a time"; then he reports the deaths to loved ones and relatives and tells them all they want to know—if they want to know.
And the Earlie Boys, all ten of them in their gaudy Kandinsky shirts, leather waistcoats, boots, knives, and tribal tattoos, are the henchmen and executioners for the Earlie King. They move "everything"—"pharm, dolls, organs, clones, money"—around this drowned world of mutant sheep ("muties"), giant slugs, deformed generations, buried towns, villages, and machinery. And they have a portable guillotine, which they delight in using.
The Earlie King, who has won his title and power in two bloody and lethal fist fights, rules from a secret location. And opposed to him and to all his evils is Vinnie Depaul, "Him of the incorrupt heart," who, according to a character we occasionally meet in the pub, "Serves the poor," sets raging fires, and "Burns the bastards." As the King notes, Vinnie "Goes after politicians, too. Burns all the bastards." And throughout the book, Mr Violence haunts the victims and revels in the horrors that kill them. We meet him first in the second chapter, gloating over the death of a woman in childbirth.
Living in the midst of all this horror is the Kid in his yellow rainproof "skins." He is, he thinks, 15 years old and was once a runner for the Earlie King and a prospective Earlie Boy. But he met the King's 13-year-old daughter "T" and they fell in love. The "babby" is theirs, and it is T's death which first introduced us to Mr Violence. The Kid has promised T he will bring their baby up good, so he infiltrates the King's secret home, overpowers the King, and kidnaps the baby. The Earlie Boys—in particular Bart ("Crooner Bart" the Bard of the Earlie Boy tribe)—track the boy, seeking vengeance and the return of the baby. Ward and his offsider, Ray, track the boy. O'Casey tries to follow them all. And the rain keeps falling: "Would be a grand country if we could put a roof on it."
This is Danny Denton's first novel. And novel it is—in many ways. Chapters alternate between characters. There are snatches of poetry, yarning scraps of ancient Irish myths, a miracle involving a statue of the Virgin Mary, and play scripts vividly presenting scenes and characters. Ireland is a strangely transformed, half-drowned world in which everyone communicates through their "devices," postal drones deliver the mail, people roll and smoke "herbals," get high on Fadinhead (a lethal and addictive white powder), and watch TeleVisio. Horror and violence reign.
The violence is shocking, but at times the horror is almost unreal. The Kid falls in with a group of wanderers who are looking for meaning in this fallen world. "The Wandering Question Mark," he calls them. When Bart disrupts a séance where they are channelling T for the Kid, the Kid sees only "a neck black with wine," wine spreading out on the table, wine spilled on the floor, people exhausted, sleeping, collapsed—before he sees Bart folding his knife. And the Kid himself is the hero of the story. His love for his pony Honest John, and for T and their baby, is seen in his actions and is never mawkish. He is realistically naïve about looking after a baby, he loves and protects her fiercely, and he fights for what he believes is right, suffers terribly, and doubts everything. We do not know how all this will end, but his love acts as a counter-balance for the violence in the book.
The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow is written with the fluency, wit, and imagination traditionally attributed to Irish story-tellers. It almost asks to be read in an Irish accent. And although some may find it too strange or too violent, it is a fine debut novel.