Before there was Connell from Normal People, there was Scobie Donoghue from Pure Mule. We first met the protagonist way back in 2005 in writer Eugene O' Brien's acclaimed RTÉ TV series, when Scobie was a young man trying to figure the world and himself out, in the midlands.

Now, in O'Brien's first novel, we meet Scobie again when he has returned to Ireland after a period in Australia. Like many other Irish people, he headed off to the other hemisphere to forget the mess he left behind him but unfortunately, found the mess followed him to the other side of the world.

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Listen: Eugene O'Brien talks to Brendan O'Connor

He arrives back in Ireland to live with his mother and struggles to find his place in society as a man heading for forty without the high-flying career nor the wife and kids others his age seem to have easily found. When the pandemic hits, Scobie is heading down a dark path of loneliness, alcohol and serious drug habit. O' Brien manages to write the confused, lost, helpless Scobie so seamlessly that I was both frustrated by and felt sorry for him simultaneously.

Much of what O' Brien captures so well is contemporary Ireland, like he did in Pure Mule and in his plays, Eden and Heaven. Parts of what he shows us are truly bleak but ultimately real and raw. The huge challenges facing those who want to live here and can't find somewhere to stay, and those who have found themselves taking some fairly lethal substances because they're so widespread and often cheaper than a few pints.

I finished the novel in two days but Scobie's story, like so many others, has stayed with me ever since, a sure sign that compelling writing, powerful characters and a glimpse of redemption is a winning combination.

Going Back is published by Gill