Winner of 2016’s year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Glorious Heresies is – put simply – a glorious read.
In the backdrop of post – recession Cork, Ireland – we encounter murder, prostitution, teenage infatuation and child abuse. McInerney sets the scene in her first chapter with “The Dead Man” where we join an elderly lady who after hearing an intruder enter her house hits said intruder with a holy stone and unwittingly commits murder. What follows is a series of misfits trying to cover up the murder against the backdrop of a destructively intense teenage relationship.
That summary makes the book sound relentlessly bleak but it is, at the right times, hilarious. For example, the murderer’s thoughts immediately after the crime turn religious: “She did think…that it might be a jolly to ring for a priest, just to see how God and his bandits felt about it. Maybe they’d try to clean the kitchen floor by blessing it, by the power vested in me.”
What stood out for me was how McInerney’s characters are anything but one dimensional. The reader’s pre-conceived notions are constantly twisted, turned and challenged. For example, when we first meet one of the misfits charged with the ‘clean-up’ Tony, we are led to believe that he is a coward, a snivelling wreck of an alcoholic. Later as the story progresses we witness how he abuses his children in his inability to cope without the mother who has long since died. His son, the wannabe gangster and habitual drug taker is portrayed as a ‘hard man’ but the gut wrenchingly beautiful references to his memories of playing piano with his mother contrasts this image wonderfully.
The juxtaposition of personalities makes this book special and showcases McInerney’s unquestionable ability to write a stunningly good story. The pace of the novel never slows down – not for a second – until it ends.