Sunday, March 24, 2013

'Lagan Love' by Peter Murphy

Lagan Love is a Dublin story. Based around the city in the bars, coffee shops, streets and houses, it is a story of disappointment in love, discovery of self and of the characters that make up Dublin. It is Peter Murphy's first novel.

In many ways Lagan Love consists of many Dublin stereotypes. There is the tortured poet Aiden who meets Janice, a student who has come from Toronto to study history at Trinity. She befriends Sinead who used to go out with Aiden and whose parents are struggling to maintain their relationship while their views differ on the revelations of the Catholic church. In this mix are the characters that Aiden, Janice and Sinead mix with when they drink in Grogans, the Dublin institution where writers search the bottom of their glass for literary inspiration, and Gwen and Maurice, the moneyed art supporters with the poetry press looking for up and coming talent to take under their wings.

Despite these obvious stereotypes Lagan Love is a good story. It has some unexpected turns and comedic observations of Dublin phraseology. Aiden's knowledge of Irish history is worked into the novel well as he tells Janice the visitor the relevance of place and people's position in society. History is merged with myth and superstition to create an atmosphere of uncertainty about the character's true motives for their actions.

The title is curious; 'Lagan' initially made me think it would have some reference to the North, Armagh in particular. With hindsight having read the book I think it symbolically refers to lagan of the flotsam and jetsam type, cargo lying on the ocean floor marked with a buoy to be reclaimed later, maybe referring to the abandoning of love. The cover also is not that appealing to the eye and maybe something more obviously Dublin related would draw the reader  to pull it from the shelf.

This aspect aside, Lagan Love is a well constructed novel with an unexpected end. Peter Murphy has drawn on what he knows to bring this story together, his knowledge of Dublin, its pub life and his own move to Canada as well as his knowledge of Irish history and poetry (in particular Austin Clarke) which is sprinkled through the novel via Aiden in his Behan-esque characterisation.

Lagan Love is published by Fiction Studio Books

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