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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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The narrator Charlie is the 'gamal', ( shortened from the Irish 'gamalog', meaning simpleton) of the story. Crazy is the generic term for him. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is the technical nomenclature. However he is defined, he narrates his own story with the aid of his intellect and the internet. Contrary to nature, to the point of being perverse, his lack of conformity gives him a licence to free speech with his disorder as a back-up excuse. He is not short of friends who are close to him. Sinead and James have suffered adversity. Charlie and the readers do not know the ins-and-outs of these, but Charlie is observant and is no slouch when it comes to being astutely perceptive.

Whatever is up, Charlie's psychiatrists feel his talent for assessing life around him would be therapeutically beneficial written down in book format. Ever-willing in an apostate manner, Charlie may as well be setting down his story for blind-folded readers. In similar vein his approach to his beloved music is written with a join the dots and fill in the blanks challenge. He is in an indefinable category of a controlled and deliberate looseness that annoys the establishment as his talents are clear. Throw in his abilities as an an illustrator of life whether in song or words, both in realism or the cleverness of a story-teller, Charlie is your man.

His misfit talents eventually cross singer Sinead and the ritualistic background of Protestant James. If envy or mistrust arise, Ciaron Collins is able to camouflage them, not without touches of humour. An excellent, thoughtful and entertaining novel that deserves a wide readership.
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on 13 August 2016
Bittersweet and a slow burner, this is reminiscent of The Butcher Boy by Pat McCabe in that it has as it's central character someone with a unique voice in fiction. Utterly believeable and heartbreaking, set in a small town in Co Cork, where old hatreds, petty begrudgery and raw jealousy combine into a toxic and corrosive brew. Staggeringly good writing that seeps into your bones.
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on 25 June 2013
I bought this book on the recommendation of one of my students - her brother is a student of the author. I was slow to buy the book because I normally prefer fiction by foreign authors, but I'm really glad that I did.

The book is well structured, and layered in a way that little bits of the story are revealed in different ways. At times the book is laugh out loud and at other times I was in floods of tears with the tragedy unfolded. Because of the style used by the author, it feels like you are inside of the story observing what is going on, or remembering what happened.

Lots of it is very "West Cork" in terms of some of the language used and the phrasing, but very cleverly done. Coming from this area myself, I thought it was authentic and definitely know of characters who are similar to almost all of the characters in the book.

I read a lot of books, but recommend very few of them but have recommended this to lots of friends and family at this stage.

Go and read this book. Ciaran Collins is certainly an author to look out for in the future.
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on 12 July 2014
The Gamal by Ciaran Collins is A Book Apart!

Charlie, who is known in his local village of Ballyronan as The Gamal, is considered by everyone to be not quite there. Not the full shilling. He has decided very early in life that there is no reason for him to do anything that other people wish him to do. Charlie remains silent observing people. He notices the important small things that influence the bigger things.

Charlie has a sad story to tell and with the help of his psychiatrist, Dr Quinn, he is going to try to write down what has transpired and explain why he is suffering from An Dubh (The Blackness, depression).

‘Sorrows notice me”

He is treated like a village idiot and in his school his teachers decide he is slow and have no expectations of him at all. They are happy to let Charlie sit at the back of the class drawing. But Charlie is listening and watching.

Some teachers are cruel and calculating towards him and it is a moment of scholastic segregation that leads to Sinead sticking up for him and befriending him.

Sinead comes from a troubled home herself and she too is different amongst her peers.

James arrives to the small village and he is welcomed with open arms of embrace shielding daggers of debilitating bag stabbing .His family, the Kents, have an unfavourable history with the locals due to callous acts carried out in the time of the famine.

Similar to Charlie and Sinead, James is ostracised in a very cunning and cruel fashion by the local bullies. Inevitably the three characters form a strong bond of friendship. Charlie refers to Sinead as;

‘More-ish. In the same way people find me less-
ish.’

James and Sinead share a passion for music; Sinead is hugely talented but lacks self confidence. Charlie spends much of his youth with his two companions listening to them compose and play music.

‘School was the time not listening to music’

Sinead once drew a map for Charlie telling him;

‘Just follow the music Charlie, you’ll find us there’

The three pals do their best to fit in with their peers and there are happy times too in their young adolescent years. Irish College is a place where they experience happiness and the goodness and kindness in the three of them is well highlighted by the author when they befriend Henry, a younger child suffering the heartbreaking hounding of bullying. Charlie describes their time in Irish College as;

‘A magical place cos there’s a load of young people who are neither children not grown up humans….no one pushing them forward or holding them back’

James is an extremely endearing character, his talents abound and this leads to jealousy and animosity from many of the local lads. He is forced to endure many forms of deliberate humiliation by local people including one of his teachers.

Sinead and James are soul mates and later lovers. But they are never going to be allowed to be happy in ‘Ballyronan.’ Sinead’s vulnerability will be abused and utilised.

‘Scandal is the word or act which gives occasion to the spiritual ruin of one’s neighbour’

James and Sinead’s relationship becomes the obsession of some, and a poisonous concoction of lies and deceit deliberately drive the young lovers apart.

Charlie, the Gamal, is desperately trying to come to terms with the terrible things that have happened in his small village. His unrelenting love and admiration for Sinead will never change.

‘Her mind had taken away all her value to the world.’

So the young boy who had chosen to remain on the outside of things and refuse to obey any previous instructions or requests, finds himself more than willing to do absolutely anything for Sinead…..

This is an extraordinary book which deals with the truly terrible traits of human nature. One minute I felt like I was drowning; awash with sadness. The next minute having been hauled out from the darkest depths of degradation; I felt the warmth of the all encompassing light of love enveloping my very soul.

I would score this book 9 out of a possible 10. For people who are offended by bad language, I would suggest; get over yourself, and don’t miss out on reading this unique book.
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on 3 August 2013
Slow start, in fact very slow start, but then ..... It just takes off (after at least 100 pages) and you are hooked and you can't stop reading because you want to find out what actually happened as you have become so involved with the main characters and want to know how and why the story will turn out.

I don't want to ruin it for you and yes you can guess what happens to Sinead and James from the outset but you want to find out why and you have to picture being an outsider, for various reasons, living in a small community and not fitting in. Which is what draws Charlie, Sinead and James together in the first place. However, you have to give Charlie's narration your full attention because he's not as daft as he appears.

Well worth a read!
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on 2 March 2014
This is a great first novel that develops slowly but keeps you enthralled and I couldn't put it down. It paints a realistic picture of life in an Irish village and contains some great characterisation. It made me laugh and cry and although I knew where the story was going I still wanted to find out how it got there - and when it did get there it left me pondering................ I shall certainly look out for any further books by this author.
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on 27 May 2013
I read this book a couple of months ago and it has stayed with me. At points I was blown away by the skill of this writer, had to put the book down and stay very still thinking about what I'd just read. On top of that it has to be one of the funniest books I've read this year. I can't imagine how the author will follow this one up, but I fully intend to read everything he writes. Fans of Donal Ryan's The Spinning Heart will love this.
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Charlie McCarthy, who is twenty-five as the book begins, is writing about events which occurred five years ago in Ballyronan, outside of Cork, events so traumatic for him that he is still being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And that's on top of his problems as a "Gamal," short for Gamallogue, an Irish word for someone who is "different" - not someone who is developmentally limited in the usual sense but someone, like Charlie, who seems to do everything wrong socially. The reader knows from the opening paragraph that Charlie's trauma involved two lovers, his friends Sinead and James, and his early descriptions of Sinead in the past tense lets us know from the outset that she has died. We know nothing else, however, nor do we know much about James, at that point, except that he and Sinead were Charlie's only friends in a school atmosphere in which bullying was common.

Charlie's "main shrink" has persuaded him to write a thousand words a day about his life, and he has agreed, reluctantly. Inserting drawings instead of bothering to describe people and places, Charlie begins his book - this book - also including passages from psychology textbooks, dictionaries, and eventually court transcripts. He leaves spaces where the reader can fill in the lyrics to his favorite songs. When he updates the reader on how many words he has written, Dr. Quinn demands he stop delaying, and he finally admits, in writing, that five years ago he was a witness in a court case in criminal court and that it lasted for four weeks. The case involved Sinead and her death. Slowly, through flashbacks, Charlie reveals information about his life and family, and Sinead's, and James's, all three from different social strata and levels of education. Sinead's family is living in a council house, while James's lives in an old castle which they restored. Charlie lives with his hard-working parents, and he is often bullied at school, even by teachers. None of the three are popular. As soon as Sinead meets James, however, the two become inseparable, though they continue to include Charlie in their lives and activities.

Gradually, all the characters, including some nasty subordinate characters, develop with substantial detail, and Charlie's attitudes toward them add color to the action. His special vernacular makes the prose fun to read. For the first hundred pages, however, the (sometimes frustrated) reader knows almost nothing about the mysterious tragedy of Sinead and James, even as Charlie makes foreshadowing remarks like "Sometimes I think I'm like the cameraman who let it happen. Other times I know I'm not. And I did nothing. I know it."

At the halfway point of this nearly five hundred page book, however, the novel takes off, with the tension rising through revealing court testimony by characters we know or suspect to be untrustworthy. By the conclusion, the reader knows the full story and its implications, with several big revelations waiting until the final pages. Debut novelist Ciaran Collins has a fine sense of the dynamics of a small town and of the long-term effects of trauma on a character like Charlie. His characters, some of them loathsome, never veer far from the meanness everyone has seen among young, small-town bullies, and his ability to bring off a grand and memorable climax is daunting. Though the novel does have some problems with pacing at the beginning, Collins's control of his story is absolute, and readers are in for a treat with his characterizations.
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on 24 November 2013
The Gamal is an emotional roller-coaster from cover to cover. Collins (shortlisted for Irish Time Newcomer of the Year) captures the life of modern rural Ireland amazingly and develops a story that will keep you hooked and guessing until the final page. A must read!
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on 26 December 2013
Insight into mind of Charlie is amazing. Description of the bullying that happens ( now and in the past ) is very apt and descriptive. Also many happy 'pictures' of the three. Sad, funny and unputdownable book. Thanks Ciaran.
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