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lunababymoonchild

Ghosts and Lightning - Discussion

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The debut novel from Trevor Byrne.

It revolves around a character called Denny and how his life/family/friends affect him, and how he feels. It's written from his point of view, the dialogue that he is in and what his thoughts/feelings are. Set in Ireland, fairly recently - i.e. after the Troubles - it's very much a comment on the social/cultural aspects of life in Ireland. It consists mainly of Irish dialogue and I got a keen sense of the irish from it insofaras I 'heard' the irish accent as I read . This dialogue is heavily laden with profanity (and my language in RL deteriorated, as a result!) which I don't normally enjoy, but it doesn't detract from the story. It's a rough life for Denny and his friends and family, with much in the way of drug and alcohol abuse interspersed with some physical fighting but it's not a difficult or uncomfortable read and all within context it seems perfectly natural, not to mention plausible.

The book starts with the death of the main character's mother and ends with him having found love, which he makes clear throughout the book that he believes he will never find. Throughout, the reader feels his despair and joy regarding his childhood friends and his family, both in the present and from his childhood, hears his morals and feels his feelings. We also get a little Irish mythology, too.

The author makes his points clearly but gently and I got them all. Trevor Byrne is Irish and lived in the area and at pretty much the time the book is set in, indeed the book does seem autobiographical in places i.e. the wrestling fixation, the housing estate etc.

All in all an enjoyable read that I wouldn't have chosen for myself and glad that I had the opportunity to partake.

Ghosts and Lightning is so called because ghosts and lightning don't cast shadows. As if the characters of the book don't exist, contributing to their disaffection, somehow.

 

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Ghosts and Lightning is not a book I would have normally chosen for myself.

 

However Trevor Byrne's writing style is clear and easy enough to read and understand. The main character Denny comes across as though he struggles with the idea that he will always be alone, and wants to make more of himself than he can be bothered to. (If that makes any sense).

 

I can't really comment on the time that it was set in as I don't really know much about Irelands 'troubles' as Lunababymoonchild has said but for someone who does know more about it...I'm sure that it fits well and is clear in the writing.

 

Lots of madness, drinking and drugs....

 

I could not however for the life of me picture (or hear) in my head an Irish accent so I found at times that I had to put the book down because I would read the words and they were making no sense. Lol

 

Other than that I enjoyed it!!!

 

And for that I thank BGO for giving me the chance to join in on something like this. :D

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On first sight, Trevor Byrne's debut novel Ghosts and Lightning is obviously strongly influenced by Roddy Doyle circa The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van. There's the same warm, funny southern Irish vernacular, the underlying family loyalty despite superficial bickering, even the same style of a hyphen denoting speech instead of quotation marks. Will Byrne have anything original to offer, I wondered.

He does. Ghosts and Lightning is a hilariously entertaining story which also touches on more serious subjects such as death, loneliness, family ties and the yearning for love.

 

Starting with the unusual second person perspective, the reader is propelled into the life of Denny, a twenty six year-old Dublin boy from Clondalkin. Denny has been in Wales for a few months, trying to make a life for himself, but receives a phone call from his older sister Paula to say that their mother's died. Within the first page, Denny is on his way home to his remaining family and his friends.

 

Switching to the more familiar first person narration from the second chapter on, Byrne traces the first few months of Denny's return to his hometown. Vivid portraits are painted of his sister Paula, a disorganised and sometimes volatile woman who has turned to alcohol in the wake of her mother's death; of Pajo, Denny's gentle, sensitive and spiritual old friend, an ex junkie now on methadone; of Maggit, Pajo's brother, an angry young man who dotes on his son, Anthony, who lives with his mother, Maggit's ex girlfriend Bernadette; and of Ned, a chancer who sells stolen goods on his market stall and who has recently fallen for a middle class art student, Sinead.

 

Not all the characters come alive in such vibrant colour: Teresa, Paula's girlfriend, remains sketchily drawn as do some of the other female characters such as Sinead and Bernadette, but this is excusable because most of the action centres around Denny and his male pals. They have some wild times smoking dope, taking various pills and getting raucously drunk. Denny has a depth to him that is missing in the protagonists of Irvine Welsh's drug-fuelled escapades (which have clearly also influenced Byrne), enjoyable as they were. There is a gnawing loneliness in Denny; he longs to meet his soulmate but, in the manner of many single young people, doubts it will ever happen.

 

There are some genuinely malevolent characters in Byrne's cast. Slaughter, a violent, racist thug, is conjured up with such malignant skill that the scene where he visits Denny's home with his herd of followers made me shiver with fear.

 

Denny's voice throughout maintains a sceptical edge and dry wit. Here he is describing Pajo:

'...so many chemicals in and on him he smells like a breach of the Kyoto agreement...',

and:

'When Pajo writes he only ever uses capitals, like he's trying to convince himself that whatever he's writin is solid and worthwhile.'

 

And here he is on his brother's wife's motivation for ditching NTL and getting Sky instead:

'Gino used to have NTL but he got rid of it and got Sky instead cos, as his wife pointed out, with NTL yeh just get a little box that yeh put with yer video and that, under the telly,whereas with Sky yeh get a dish, which is more conspicuous; she didn't want people assumin she hadn't the money for cable TV.'

 

Ghosts and Lightning is full of youthful exuberance and black humour, and its protagonist is in many ways modelled on the author: a short autobiographical section at the back of the book explains that he too grew up in Dublin, lived for a while in Wales and balances his love of literature with a passion for wrestling - truly a meeting of the middle and working classes. It's obvious too that the odd sense of humour of Denny's beloved late mother is based partly on Byrne's own mother's. This latter works sometimes but at others doesn't quite come off, as when Denny chortles at the memory of his mother's hysterical laughter at the thought of an old man at a bus stop getting sucked under the wheels of the bus and dying: this just sounds disturbingly heartless and cruel - perhaps you had to be there.

 

Still, apart from that slightly off line, I have only warm enthusiasm for Byrne's debut. Perhaps there is a touch of that teenage black and whiteness of perception: the stranger in the bus in the first chapter is implausibly Bad, being a Rohypnol-brandishing date rapist as well as beating up women, hating children and being a sweaty BO-ridden Johnny nae mates, all of which becomes apparent in three pages. So too are the two gratuitously violent Garda policemen. But in most places Byrne has the maturity to paint characters in shades of grey: Denny's older brother Shane may be a strict landlord but he also wreaks vengeance on Denny's behalf when required, and Maggit may be an offensive twit but his love for his child is abundantly apparent.

 

Overall, Ghosts and Lightning is a wildly funny story about the way a young man copes with bereavement and finds his way after a period of being lost in the dark. Byrne is a comic talent to watch and, like Doyle who has so clearly inspired him, is capable of exploring the dark sides of life as well as the light ones.

****0

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I've been struggling with this a bit, and I came to have a look at the thread to see whether I should persevere.

 

There is a lot I like about the book. I like the observations about Irish life, and I like a lot of the characterisation.

 

Luna, your comment about your language deteriorating in real life reminded me of the Father Ted moment:

TED: July 19th ... Why does that strike me as important?

 

DOUGAL: Yes! ... Ah July 19th, I wouldn't know Ted you big bollocks.

 

TED: I'm sorry?

 

DOUGAL: I said 'I wouldn't know Ted you big bollocks'.

 

TED: Have you been reading those Roddy Doyle books again, Dougal?

 

DOUGAL: I have yeah Ted, ya big gobshite.

:D

 

It does remind me a lot of Roddy Doyle crossed with Irvine Welsh, both of whose books I have enjoyed.

But...

I'm just finding it all a bit relentless. The squalor, the drugs, the drinking, the swearing. And it's just all so blokey. I feel bad, having taken a free copy, but I might pass it on to a friend. Or I might give it a third go.

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I've been struggling with this a bit, and I came to have a look at the thread to see whether I should persevere.
Life's too short to struggle with a book, imho

 

There is a lot I like about the book. I like the observations about Irish life, and I like a lot of the characterisation.
I liked that too, which is what kept me going.

 

Luna, your comment about your language deteriorating in real life reminded me of the Father Ted moment ......
Brilliant!

 

 

It does remind me a lot of Roddy Doyle crossed with Irvine Welsh, both of whose books I have enjoyed.
I've never read any of those so had nothing to compare it to.

 

But...

I'm just finding it all a bit relentless. The squalor, the drugs, the drinking, the swearing. And it's just all so blokey. I feel bad, having taken a free copy, but I might pass it on to a friend. Or I might give it a third go.

It does go on a bit on the oirish/swearing theme I felt (I kept expecting it to somehow switch to 'normal' prose after a while) and there were times where it stopped just in time for me to keep going.

 

Only you can decide if it's worth pursuing, MM :D

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Denny Cullen, the main character in the book takes us back to his hometown of Clondalkin, Dublin after learning of his mothers’ death. It’s an emotional and disturbing journey as Denny meets up with old friends and old habits and it isn’t long before Denny is consumed by a lifestyle he had struggled to escape. There’s Paula, his gay sister, who lives with her lover in their mother’s house; a place Denny warmly remembers as home has now been turned into a place where strange people come and go, party all night, get drunk before falling into a drug induced sleep literally anywhere in the place. His friends, who are fragmented and as broken as their subsequent relationships, money is scarce, employment a distraction and education is what they’ve learned on the streets of Clondalkin. And yet the story is warm, touching and extremely funny – a ghost story of loss which poignantly illustrates the stereotypical weaknesses but surprising strengths of family and community. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - its ingenious, crisp, narrative was startling as it was refreshing – the tale raw, realistic and completely engaging. A great debut.

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