Review of “Topographia Hibernica” by Blindboy Boatclub – A Hilarious and Dark Take on Irish Culture
In his third collection of short stories, Blindboy Boatclub, one half of Ireland’s self-proclaimed “dole-queue dadaists” and member of the comedy hip-hop duo the Rubberbandits, combines the ordinary and the bizarre, the funny and the desperate. The first story, The Donkey, sets the tone with a strange scene of a donkey selling Christmas trees on a roundabout, wearing an elf’s hat in the frost. The animal is crying blood from being mistreated by a child, while at a nearby nursing home, the narrator’s father’s head is decaying and causing him fear.
Using immense and unconventional energy from the Limerick language, this compilation creates a unique melody that is both memorable and unsettling, yet also heartfelt. Amidst the profanity, there are moments of stunning beauty that intertwine pathos and humor.
The novel “St Augustine’s Suntan” is set in a rundown cathedral that represents different forms of destruction: of the past, present society, and the protagonist’s troubled mind. The main character often repeats the desire to remove his thoughts and discard them for animals to consume, showing his distress. The book also satirizes various types of therapy, which ultimately fail to provide relief from the past. The narrator reflects on the legend of Morrígan, a goddess who took the shape of birds with shiny eyes, and attempts to have a jackdaw perform trepanation on him using a sausage roll as bait. The story highlights the absence of old deities and the ineffectiveness of modern methods, leaving us with the enigma and enduring nature of human suffering.
One could argue that these are not brief narratives but rather tales, stemming from a tradition of spoken storytelling rather than written literature. However, the differentiation is not as clear in Irish culture and literature. The pub story, the humorous shaggy-dog joke, and the comedic monologue can all be found here. There is a concern that this style may result in these tales being exhausted after one impressive showing, but that is not the case.
The Poitín Maker is a charmingly traditional story, taking place in a world where mythical creatures are believed to be real and feared more than authority figures like landlords and tax collectors. In this world, fairies have the power to not only take your possessions and wealth, but also your children. While some may view phrases like “The mountains and the heather were only a rumour in the blackness” as clichéd or overly sentimental, when combined, they create a captivating and atmospheric tale.
In the novel “I’ll Give You Barcelona,” Jacky Kinsella, a taxi driver who is also into weightlifting and failed to make it into the Everton team, takes the reader on a journey through contemporary ideas of masculinity. This includes references to cheetahs, a near-death experience via podcast, and a confrontational encounter with his rival, Purple Brosnan, who embodies traditional alpha male traits. The story is simultaneously humorous, revolting, and emotionally impactful, but may not be suitable for quotes in a family-friendly newspaper.
The book Topographia Hibernica takes its name from the 12th-century work by Norman propagandist Gerald of Wales. Gerald’s work aimed to persuade English colonists to settle in Ireland by painting a charming picture of the land and its nature while also spreading false accusations about the morality and abilities of the Irish people. In a fictional twist, the author of this book retaliates against Gerald by depicting him as a sexually obsessed fantasist who is plagued by the mysteries of the Irish mindset and his insatiable desire for roasted hedgehog. “Giraldus cursed his own body, urging it to expel the offending object. Lost in his own thoughts, he produced a dark, solid relic that sank into the sands of Éireann, woven into stories like a rabbit.” This passage may serve as a commentary on the impact of English colonialism or simply reflect the author’s fascination with scatological humor, but it is a memorable conclusion to this entertaining collection.