Slowed a little by a stone in my shoe, I arrived in Galway City a while after dark. Galway City, the Sodom of the West! I reached the very crest of fabled Prospect Hill, to see a bolt of lightning split the sky. Its white flash outlined a dark cloud of bats against the soaring tower of Galway’s greatest building, the Car-Park of the Roaches. I plunged down Prospect Hill toward the heart of the city, toward Eyre Square.
Looking behind me, I saw I had shaken off the pursuing mob.
I covered half of Eyre Square at a sprint, the next quarter of Eyre Square at a trot. I ambled through an eight of Eyre Square, and I drifted to a halt with only a sixteenth of Eyre Square ahead of me.
I never really understand what people are talking about when they bring up “the great tradition of Irish literature.” I just nod and hmmm. It isn’t that I haven’t read any; I’ve encountered the standards, Joyce and O’Brien, but I don’t really see the distinction between Irish fiction as a body of work and, say, English or American, other than setting. I’ve always felt bad about that. And stupid.
This story, this character, this voice, I get. I’ve obviously been reading the wrong Irishmen.
He’s young, naive, guileless. Yet he stumbles into craziness just by being himself. And it’s all completely believable, once you absorb that premise.
The story is hilarious. It starts out with the above expository paragraphs that evoke nearly every grim image possible – lightning, bats, prospects, roaches – yet is, as far as I can tell, completely legit. There is a Roaches Car Park. There are bats in Galway. And there is an Eyre Square, which was officially renamed Kennedy Park (after JFK) but it’s still determinedly called Eyre Park – perhaps the reason for the repetition?
Not only is the Car-Park of the Roaches the greatest building in Galway, but the Supermac chipshop (I gather this is the Irish equivalent of McDonalds) becomes a cathedral (and, per the picture above, it truly is “a transparent building, lit from within with golden light”) in which Jude sees The Most Beautiful Woman In The World at the fryer. He falls in love instantly, and tells her so. “In a voice like the whisper of silk against an angel’s wing, she said, ‘You’re taking this piss, right?'”
In a comedy of errors cause by a manager confusing a lama – the Buddhist kind – with a sheep, Jude ends up pursued by yet another angry mob. He takes refuge in a Protestant church, where additional comedic misunderstandings evoke Freemasons:
Trying to remove the stone from inside the heel of my shoe, I absentmindedly extended my right hand under my raised left knee, to shake his hand. He raised his knee and did likewise, with a great creaking of bones.
“You are a Mason!” he exclaimed with pleasure, standing on one leg.
Lost in thought, I put down my left food. Unfortunately, the stone had been stood on end, sharp point up, by my poking. It pierced my heel as I placed all my weight on it.
I spoke in tongues, put my head between my knees, lifted the foot, lost my balance, and recovered it by grabbing the old man, through his loose tweed, by the testicle, and slowly lowering my forehead to the cold stone.
I let go his testicle, raised my head, and hopped.
“Well, well, well,” said the old man. “A Mason of so high a rank, and so young! You were modest earlier, with your greeting of the Fourth Rank. We may skip the formalities.” He bowed low.
Then there’s the Hunchback of Notre Dame trope, but I wouldn’t want to spoil all the suspense.
And here’s the magic of this story: whether his contorted handshake while trying to remove a stone from his shoe is being interpreted as the secret handshake of a Mason, or he’s spying The Most Beautiful Girl In The World the bell tower of his new employer with a pillow glued to his back and toothpaste foaming out of his mouth and a crick in his neck (ok, so I spoiled the suspense a little), everything flows from one thing to the next, with that “inevitable but surprising” progression I never seem to achieve.
Distraught, I called from the tower as she reappeared in the church grounds below me, “Is there not a task I could perform to change your mind and win your heart?”
“Yeah, sure!” she called up as she ran, and my hear leaped like a salmon. “Get plastic surgery to look like Leonardo DiCaprio. And make a million more on…”
And with that tantalizing promise, she was gone.
The first part of her request was clear, though I puzzled over the second one briefly. A million more on what? But of course! A million more on top of what I had already!
I was ecstatic, transformed. The woman I loved had set me a task.
Wow, it’s the Joseph Campbell Hero’s Quest, which I’ve never understood until now.
It’s pretty clearly an excerpt from a larger piece (probably his first novel, Jude Level 1 since we never find out anything about the mob pursuing our protagonist and the end feels like a beginning. If this is indicative of Gough’s writing as a whole, I just might take a look; after all, his second Jude novel, Jude in London is available as a free – that’s FREE – download (and begins with a quick bringing-you-up-to-date summary which seems to include this episode), with an option to pay what you thought it was worth when you’re finished. He’s been compared to Wodehouse and Roddy Doyle, neither of which I’m familiar enough with to recognize; I was thinking A Fish Called Wanda throughout, but that was English, right? No matter – this is great stuff.
It’s quite a short little story (or excerpt), and I wish it was available online, since the voice is key to appreciating the events. What I appreciate after I stopped giggling is that it truly works. Every step is logical, everything is authentic and, sort of, logical. I’m not sure total strangers running in off the street are truly handed the keys to the bell tower in Irish churches, nor am I sure that pillows can end up glued to backs (ok, the glue is a bit of a stretch, and the toothpaste) but if you go with it, if you’re willing, it’s a perfectly cohesive story rather than a string of gags, and the ending is just right, leaving me to crave further adventures. And you know, I finally found some Irish literature I get.