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A Mad and Wonderful Thing Paperback – 8 May 2014
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'Johnny Donnelly is a romantic and a rhetorician - it's easy to be swept along - Mulholland has Roddy Doyle's gift for vernacular - you'll be there with him to the bitter end.' - Herald Sun 'Beneath the passion, wit, and poetry of A Mad and Wonderful Thing is an undertow of tragedy. This is a world where our moral certainties are challenged, where gentle domesticity and sudden violence disrupt our expectations. --Robert Gott
Excellent. Deeply satisfying and moving… Ireland has a new and exciting voice. --Liam Neeson
'[R]omance is the mad and wonderful thing that gives the novel its name, but it's not the emotion that drives the plot ... Mulhlland's prose has all the elan of fine conversation after a couple of pints ... the final act is marvellous'(Michelle Griffin Canberra Times)
'Johnny Donnelly is a romantic and a rhetorician ... it's easy to be swept along ... Mulholland has Roddy Doyle’s gift for vernacular ... you'll be there with him to the bitter end.'(Herald Sun)
'A great read ... it deserves to do well.'(Jeremy Irons)
'An emotional, shocking, gorgeous read, rooted in such painful reality ... a magnetic and lyrical read.'(Jon Snow)
'[A] terrific first novel ... Mulholland has pulled off that most difficult of literary quinellas: a serious story, entertainingly told.'(Listener)
'[A]n extraordinary book; it confronts political and moral choices with a harsh brutality, but is, as well, a great love story.'(Mark Rubbo Readings Monthly)
'[L]yrical, poetic and passionate'(The Saturday Age)
'Despite the light-hearted banter, the real pathos underlying the Irish charm and wit permeates the book as Mulholland brings to life Ireland’s bitter, strife-torn history. And he proves an extremely gifted story-teller to boot.'(Elaine Fry The Weekend West)
'Beneath the passion, wit, and poetry of A Mad and Wonderful Thing is an undertow of tragedy. This is a world where our moral certainties are challenged, where gentle domesticity and sudden violence disrupt our expectations.'(Robert Gott)
‘Excellent. Deeply satisfying and moving … Ireland has a new and exciting voice.’(Liam Neeson)
'The real central character in this book is Ireland. Mulholland apparently effortlessly conjures up the country through its history, myths and legends, its landscape and The Troubles of the 1990s, during which the novel is set ... Evocative and lyrically written.'(Daily Mail)
'This markedly ambitious first novel is one to reckon with.'(Sunday Times)
'A fascinating and profound book – a story of love and brutality and tenderness and death ... A book which stays.'(Dominic Kearney Irish News)
‘This is a first novel and it clearly demonstrates that Mark Mulholland fulfils another one of those Irish stereotypes ― he really knows how to tell a story.’ (Clare Donaldson New Books) See all Product description
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So, a combination of personal slight, the frustration at the senselessness of the Hunger Strikes, and the gentle encouragement of a schoolteacher sees Johnny set his personal life aside to join the struggle.
But as an intellectual, Johnny struggles to reconcile his own involvement in an organisation full of bullies, thugs and racketeers. He struggles to cope with the lack of engagement of his southern compatriots. He struggles to deal with the lack of recognition that should come to a hero.
Johnny is the South Armagh sniper. He is a professional in an army of amateurs. Each hit is prepared, calculated, mapped out in minute detail. The squeeze of the trigger and the gentle bloom of red are just details in each operation that was weeks in the planning, and hours in the fleeing. Johnny’s targets are carefully chosen, each making simple procedural errors to seal his fate.
Johnny is also a magnetic attraction to the ladies. Everywhere he goes, every evening, every day, Johnny gets lucky. But as a gentleman, as a thinker, Johnny uses his charm judiciously. He has complex emotions and a burning love for Cora. Johnny is a decent man.
A Mad and Wonderful thing is a poignant novel charting the disillusion of a true Irish rebel caught between wanting victory but enjoying the fight. As a love story, it has a shining beauty – the love of Cora and the love of Ireland. But both of these loves are ultimately unrequited leaving Johnny as a disillusioned, lonely man travelling the length and breadth of Ireland in a futile attempt to gain self-knowledge. Rather than Cuchulain, we find a latterday Leopold Bloom, wandering in constant search of endorsement and affection from those who are not fit to polish his shoes.
The language is marvellous. The title, when it appears in the text, is unexpected and subsequently becomes haunting and moving. The locations – bleak hilltops, forests, the bare stone pavement of The Burren – all come alive. The people feel real, understated, human. Sometimes there seems to be just a bit too much navel gazing and philosophizing, but it adds to a complex picture in which paramilitary involvement was as much about boredom and loneliness as it ever was about exciting operations. That we are able to relate to Johnny on a human level whilst also loathing the fear and suffering he imposed on others (and himself), is a sign of a delicate, intelligent novel that doesn’t seek to impose a political slant or lead to a trite conclusion.
There is some exquisite and lyrical writing in this book which takes the reader on a trip around Ireland as well as exploring Irish mythology but the book as a whole has a schizophrenic feel to it. While this mirrors the behaviour of the protagonist, I felt disappointed that the author failed to convince me that both aspects of Johnny were one and the same person, I couldn’t reconcile their differences. Or maybe it’s just that I didn’t like Johnny resorting to violence as a solution to all his issues?
Mulholland himself refers to the schizophrenia of the Irish as portrayed via the stereotype of Irish males being apparently so generous in the pub then violent at home. In Johnny we have two stereotypes of a young Irishman but as with every stereotype, the truth is more complex. No one could spend their lives being so dissonant without being troubled – and without a doubt, Johnny is a troubled man, albeit one who seems to lack a conscience.
This is a novel of contradictions – a parallel of Ireland itself with Johnny mirroring the landscape in being at once both extremely gentle and extremely violent. It’s not a comfortable read but that also is a reflection of Ireland, a country that isn’t at peace with itself. When I finished the book I felt emotionally drained – it packed such a powerful punch that I still can’t decide, days later, if I actually enjoyed it.
This is a first novel and is clearly demonstrates that Mark Mulholland fulfils another one of those Irish stereotypes – he really knows how to tell a story.