New Island, €12.99
First published ten years ago, 'The Secret World of the Irish Male' is part one of the Irish Male trilogy by Joseph O'Connor, elder brother of the famous - and sometimes infamous - Sinead. It is a collection that, for the most part, has been previously published by (among others), The Sunday Tribune and Esquire magazine.
Despite O'Connor's Booker Prize nomination for 'Star of the Sea' and numerous good reviews, I had feared this book, described on the cover as both 'hilarious' (Daily Mirror) and 'full of laughs (The Observer), would prove to be anything but. Success may not necessarily be an indication of either talent or quality, but in this case I was wrong and, for once, it's a pleasure to admit it.
Reading one book won't make me a scholar of O'Connor's work, but these stories show him to be funny, self-deprecating, witty, sarcastic, sensitive and political all in one. 'The Secret World of the Irish Male' has a broad appeal, especially, I imagine, to anyone who experienced 1980s Ireland as a young adult. The stories contained are a snapshot of a time when emigration was not so much a career option, as your only option.
Amid the hilarity there are some poignant observations. O'Connor describes encountering a young homeless man from the midlands. The young man, dazed and starving in London, begs the author over a cup of tea to let his family in Ireland know, via The Sunday Tribune, that he is all right - although he is evidently not. This uncomfortable situation, with its oddly familiar theme, is relayed with a refreshing and non-heroic sensitivity. It seems in some ways O'Connor is left feeling as helpless as the other man.
In rapid-fire style the author hilariously raises issues such as racism and, specifically, anti-Irish attitudes that exist in modern-day England. He does this, miraculously, without either preaching, inciting, or apologising. At times this book makes you feel like you are listening in on a highly entertaining conversation. You will probably find yourself making mental notes for future verbal plagiarism as you go.
O'Connor's observations have a much broader appeal than the title suggests. This is a highly recommended read.