25 January 2018
"‘All stories are meaningless,’ Sweeney said. ‘Only you yourself put meaning on them.’"
In a dystopian Ireland bursting with allegories, parallels, and misty touchpoint shadows to the whole wide range of Irish history and culture from ancient to the twenty-first century, in a hazy, mazy, dark-grim fairy tale, The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow is a strong contender for my favourite book of 2018 – no matter what else comes along this year. Denton’s writing is gemstone special, weaving words and making pure poetry of prose, but retaining a dry, wry humour about the mess and trouble of life.
Ireland’s light has dimmed, the sun hidden behind an overwhelming deluge of rain that never stops, which floods the whole land and seeps into homes and soaks wet-through the people, who have taken to wearing plastic ‘skins’ to combat the ever-damp, ever-dripping, ever-falling rain, and taken to drink and drugs to numb the pain of abject bone-deep poverty and desperation, the economy, the industry and the people having fallen apart more than two generations ago, leaving nothing but the black market to get people through their torrential days – and from this sodden circumstance has emerged a dank community, crawling with gangs calling themselves the Earlie Boys, that are beholden to the strange, death-bringing figure of the Earlie King.
These shady, shifty street gangs rule Ireland now, and people disappear with terrifying regularity for the most innocuous crimes and mistakes, their relatives informed by the reporter O’Casey, who keeps a secret coded ledger of the what he hears about the ultraviolent and frighteningly matter-of-fact deeds of the Earlie Boys.
Official law enforcement officers are helpless to stop the gangs; the technology, the surveillance, is pervasive, and cameras are everywhere, but cameras are useless in the face of the Earlie Boys and young ‘runners’ – who have nothing to lose, and many slippery ways of evading identification.
And among the dank and the endless wet, and the half-light and the terrifying gangster-filled and fuelled life of the country, the Kid in Yellow fell in love with the wrong girl, and she with him, and this young pair had a baby. This is their story.
The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow is a strange book – a dark and seedy legend of a despairing future, written in earthy and lyrical prose. Denton casts a spell and his dystopian vision, as charmless as this dank and violent Ireland is, is shot through with a deeply moving story and vivid, haunting characters. There have been many great strange, dark novels out of Ireland – as from any country though perhaps Ireland is entitled to the crown, having birthed O’Brien’s Third Policeman, Beckett’s Watt, McCabe’s Dead School, and Joyce’s, well, everything that Joyce ever wrote – and this is an emerald in that crown, glinting not quite wholesomely but sharply, darkly wonderful.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley.