When Galway lost its mind

THERE HAS of late been a dramatic growth in the number of self-published novels hitting the literary marketplace. It is not just about numbers of books published. Clever use of available technology can now ensure they look nearly as good as anything from Picador or Jonathan Cape.

Given that so many books are now sold online, a novelist with the drive and know-how can sell as many that way as most literary novels by writers whose names are not Ian McEwan or Roddy Doyle do.

This is no passing fad, but a fundamental shift in the way publishing is done. And like the internet and the mobile phone, though the occasional crank here and there will condemn it as the end of civilisation as we know it, it is here to stay.

The snappily titled The Blonde The Buddha The Claddagh by Catriona Lowry (Original Writing, €12.99 ) is one such novel. The central character Mary Barrett is from Galway and is a very recognisable type. Her life philosophy is defined by her love of the old world traditions of the Claddagh and her obsession with tiger era false eye lashes and far too expensive hand bags.

Her tea leaf reading grandmother Nora is an important role model for Mary, which is just a little disturbing given that, at 80 years of age, Nora drinks Baileys instead of milk, wears red lipstick, and sings with the Claddagh swans for company.

Mary is at a crisis point: life as she knows it here in the City of the Tribes, a place the author clearly loves, has come undone. This novel is in part about the spiritual fulfilment a person whose troubles weigh heavily can receive from her surroundings. On the back cover the book claims that it will make you: “want to dip your feet in the waters that surround the Claddagh, drive to the rugged Connemara coast, and cross the sand bridge to the tidal island that is Omey.”

I have to say it did not make me want to do any of these things, but then I can neither drive nor swim and am perhaps not the target audience for the book’s spiritual message.

That said, I did find this a hugely entertaining read. Catriona Lowry clearly illustrates, in a story always punchy, never preachy, the way that Galway rather lost its mind before the property bubble popped.

One of her characters, Frankie Dunne, is a “well established local auctioneer”. He has promoted property in the Claddagh to what he himself describes as “rich bastards” by telling them “I’m not just selling them a house but a piece of quality history – not to mention an address to be proud of.”

Frankie’s promotional efforts have pushed houses prices up to “€650,000 - that’s for a terraced house alone”. The novel is structured into 28 short, purposeful chapters. It succeeds where many self-published novels do not because it has clearly been quite mercilessly edited.

The Blonde The Buddha The Claddagh is a relevant story well told.

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