Irish Examiner Review of The Cuckoo Boy by Dan MacCarthy

Irish Examiner

The Cuckoo Boy

Review: Dan MacCarthy

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2010

Grant Gillespie
To Hell With First Novels; €9.70

FICTION has always held up the mob as an example of corrupt society. Over the centuries novels such as Tobias Smollet’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker on to Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and on again to Cormac McCarthy have counter-pointed the amorphous mass with a protagonist who sees things differently.

Gillespie’s debut novel from this quirky publisher relates the extraordinary story of an adopted boy, James, who ends up facing such a mob. His adopted parents, Sandra and Kenneth, bring James into their life at a very young age. But things are terribly wrong from the outset and get complicated when the toddler develops an imaginary friend, David. Nothing too worrying here as many children have these semi- spectral buddies. But James’ is ever-present, almost a projection of another personality. David is wilful and bold where James is careful and needy. This imagined friend stays with James as he grows past puberty.
Meanwhile, Sandra and Kenneth discover to their astonishment that she is pregnant, having thought she was infertile. Mother dotes over the new child; she is everything James isn’t, and she is really ‘hers’. A nightmare ensues with the death of the baby, with James, of course, implicated. Another death follows as the boy’s grandfather chokes on a fish bone. David stands by, watching him die.

David develops friendships with some local children and forms a gang. However, when he is pushed into a pit of rotting pig carcasses he takes horrific revenge torturing one boy to death.

With strong parallels to Golding’s Lord of the Flies which demonstrated the savage nature of humanity detached from civilisation, Gillespie’s superb debut avers that such isolation is possible within our own societies and that the consequences can be tragic. In this case, the mob rules.

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, September 18, 2010

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