The unhinged poetry of Ken Bruen

In The Galway Silence by Ken Bruen published by Head of Zeus (310pp, €15)

Ken Bruen. Photographs:- Mike Shaughnessy

Ken Bruen. Photographs:- Mike Shaughnessy

KEN BRUEN'S writing is like Charles Bukowski’s in that people tend to either love it, or be allergic to it. No one pretends to like Bruen’s writing in the way they do, say, the poetry of Ocean Vuong or Doireann Ní Gríofa because, to paraphrase WH Auden, they think it is the correct opinion to have for the time of year.

As a crime writer, Bruen’s work exists in a zone beyond literary fashions because crime writing manages to be both permanently unfashionable and hugely popular. There are two objections non-fans of Bruen register against his work: the first being his writing is so relentlessly dark; the second that almost all his characters are, to paraphrase former reality TV star Donald Trump, terrible people.

'In the way he delivers his often one or two word bullet sentences, Bruen sometimes writes like a slightly unhinged poet, the literary lovechild of Charles Bukowksi and James O’Toole'

There is a certain kind of sensibility which finds Bruen’s ‘grimness’ intolerable. It is true his work is not recommended reading for a hung-over wet Bank Holiday Monday while waiting for the pharmacy to open because one has run out of anti-depressants. Bruen lays down an exacting challenge to the reader’s sentimental notions that, at bottom, most people are good and, when shove comes to push, everything will be OK. To the charge that almost all his characters are the sort of people one should avoid at all costs Bruen must, I think, plead a little bit guilty.

Take two of the central characters in Bruen's latest novel, In The Galway Silence, Jean and Claude Renaud. The twin sons of a French multi-millionaire, they meet their end on the evening of their 18th birthday when they are tied into a wheelchair, their mouths super-glued shut, and pushed off the pier at the Spanish Arch.

Now, when two 18-year-olds are pushed to their death at the Spanish Arch, one is against it, and hopes it will not become part of a trend. However, as Bruen writes it, one is glad to see the back of their entitled, bullying, drug addled arses and feels more than a little sorry this is not a true story. The gloriously executed murder of these two spoiled brats drags Bruen’s never ending anti-hero Jack Taylor out of retirement when the boy’s father, Pierre, asks him to find out exactly what happened. Jack knows he should not, but can never resist a toxic challenge.

Jack has settled down (sort of ) with a woman called Marion who has a nine year old son. He has “for the zillionth time...cut back on [his] drinking” and feels “no need to mention the wee issue of Xanax”. He has also “stopped beating people in every sense”, which on balance can only be a good thing. Jack’s settled life is challenged by his quest to find out who wheeled the two posh French boys off the pier.

In the way he delivers his often one or two word bullet sentences, Bruen sometimes writes like a slightly unhinged poet, the literary lovechild of Charles Bukowksi and James O’Toole, unofficial poet laureate of Henry Street, an area well known to the heroic Jack Taylor.

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