John the Revelator Paperback – 5 Feb 2009
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'Everything about John the Revelator excited me - i couldn't wait to turn the page and keep going. It was almost like reading for the first time...' -- Roddy Doyle
'Peter Murphy's prose is extraordinarily good and each page is sheer pleasure to read.' -- Irish Independent
'So fresh, so original and brave... it's an absolutely wonderful novel.'
-- Colm Toibin
'With his first novel, Irish journalist Murphy has created that elusive, precious thing, beloved of readers and publishers alike: a real page-turner.' -- The List
`Beautifully written, darkly humorous and totally engrossing. An exciting and impressive new talent.' -- Hot Press
`Directly from the opening paragraph, Peter Murphy's exuberantly candid first novel draws the reader.' -- Irish Times
'So fresh, so original and brave... it's an absolutely wonderful novel.'
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Beware John's fascination with worms. But that does kind of set the mood of the story. Earthy, realistic and not always right for the squeamish (but don't worry, it is not too bad on that score).
I loved the realism of this book, and the way it evokes a sense of time and place. Also the way the reader can really get into John's head, and feel what he feels whilst seeing what he sees.
John the Revelator.
So goes the classic Blind Willie Johnson song. In very broad terms, John the Revelator opens the book of the seven seals and unleashes the apocalypse. So it should be that our narrator, young John Devine, opens a Pandora's Box of secrets.
Living in small town Ireland, in a pretty much contemporary time, John is a loner with a fixation on parasites. He lives with his mother who is an odd mix of religious and neglectful. When a new (and older) boy comes to town, Jamey Corboy, John falls in with him and they get up to mischief. Jamey has one foot in the adult world and knows scary people. We know from the title that bad things will happen. Many of these bad, dark secrets are revealed to John in allegorical stories that Jamey has written. Hence, just like in the song, John is not the author of the dangerous text, but merely the person who reads the text and frees the secrets.
John The Revelator is essentially a story of love and trust; as John's mother fails both in maternal instinct and health, John starts to look to Jamey for protection. There is a hint of sexual frisson in the relationship but ultimately Jamey starts to take on the mantle of the mother - protecting John from harm even at personal cost.
This isn't an action packed novel; there are some deeply irritating passages about a crow that don’t work at all; and Jamey’s stories initially feel clunky until the allegory becomes clear. But it is pretty engrossing and the reader does care for John. As a result, this is quite a quick read and whilst it is not the first small-town Irish novel, it holds its own in this crowded space.
John Devine is a teenager stuck in a small Irish town with a single mother, no real friends and a rather worrying fascination for bodily parasites, mostly intestinal worms. His only human contact is with his mother Lily, Mrs Nagle, an elderly neighbour and Harry Farrell, a local jack-of-all-trades. His only break from the house and from school is Sunday Mass. Not exactly the life of your average teenage boy and not the kind of life any teenage boy would want to live.
Things start to change when Jamey Corboy comes to town. For John, Jamey opens up a world he could never have imagined, introducing him to a life outside his own house. John takes up smoking and drinking and starts growing up and having a life. As he does, however, his mother becomes more and more ill and eventually Mrs Nagle has to come and look after them both. ''John the Revelator'' is the story of John Devine growing up from being a teenager to becoming a young man and all that he discovers about himself and about life in general as this happens.
''John the Revelator'' is essentially a slice of small town Irish life as seen through the eyes of a teenage boy. As with most of life, it's pretty slow moving, but it's also surprisingly gripping. As a fan of thriller books, quite often a story with a slow pace can make me lose interest, but there was none of that here. I think it was the style of the story that kept me interested, as Murphy frequently switches between John's telling of the story, interspersed with some strange dreams he's having and often dropping in stories that Jamey has written to help illuminate the actions of some of the other characters.
The other aspect that kept me interested is that the story was very much just snippets of a life, rather than the detail, which does mean only the interesting parts are covered. Whilst this gives no real indication of how John Devine may cope with the boring parts of life, it does help speed things along. Whilst there is a lot going on, the period is quite long, so it never feels that Murphy is giving John Devine too much that would be unrealistic. Everything he goes through, with his mother's illness, events with Jamey and even the sometimes strange dreams John Devine has, seem perfectly plausible and very real and this is much of the appeal of the story. Every adult was once a teenager and the process of growing up is one of discovery. In John Devine, Peter Murphy has created a character who explores himself and who we can sympathise with entirely, largely because we can possibly remember a time when we were much like John Devine.
Part of the enjoyment certainly comes from Murphy's writing style. He's not a particularly visual writer, but he is a very emotional writer. So whilst you don't always get a clear idea of what the characters and locations may look like, you do get a very clear picture of what they're feeling. Given that your average teenager is a ball of hormones as they grow up, this is far more important. John Devine goes through many emotional experiences as his life changes virtually completely from one end of the story to the other and you get to feel every one of them.
I enjoyed "John the Revelator" a lot more than I'd expected to after the early pages. Once it had passed the opening where we were meeting John Devine for the first time and I'd settled into the slow pace of the story, I suddenly found myself gripped by the tale. The amount of emotion shown and the interesting changes of pace provided by Jamey's stories made for a wonderful combination and I found myself reading huge chunks of the story at a time. It didn't suck me in as completely as Donna Milner's ''After River'', but it's still an emotional and engrossing read.
This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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