ONE OF the great joys of book selling is to watch the progress of a promising local writer from debut appearance in print – generally in a local journal – to first book, again by a local publisher, before making it onto the national and international stage.
The difficulties encountered by up and coming authors is perhaps best illustrated by the fact the now celebrated author Ken Bruen, on the publication of his 11th book, was hailed as being an “overnight success”.
Over the last 10 years or so, Alan McMonagle has been making his literary presence felt. Born in Sligo, raised in Longford, he has made Galway his home “more or less since Leaving Cert”. Since coming here he has had two collections of short stories - Liar, Liar (Wordsonthestreet ) and Psychotic Episodes (Arlen House ) - and one novel - Ithaca (Picador ) - published, each one adding to his literary credentials. On March 5, Picador will publish his second novel, Laura Cassidy’s Walk of Fame.
The first paragraph reads: “Some day you’re going to be a star. Your name is going to be written in bright and dancing lights. Mark my words, daddy said, people will see your face and smile. Speak memorable lines from the movies you appear in. A legend in your time, that’s what you will be, daddy said, and I was happy to hear it.”
'McMonagle's second novel is a work of some literary skill dealing with obsession and mental illness'
Thus begins our heroine’s journey to claim her place in the Hollywood Hall of Fame. Initially nothing happens. Not everyone shares the dream. Laura finds herself in a no man’s land where all is confusion. At all times, Laura’s mental health fluctuates, accented by the ghost of her father, whose spirit overshadows the narrative.
And just when it all is about to swim out of hand McMonagle brings it together with astonishing narrative skill. The new theatre is about to open its doors, the first production calls for a particularly fiery female lead, a part that as far as Laura is concerned has her name written on it. However, there are seen and unseen obstacles in her way.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Laura Cassidy’s Walk of Fame is McMonagle’s technique in building the story. For close on the first half of the book, he adds several different layers to the narrative at items leaving the reader confused and somewhat irritated. Then just as the reader is about to give up, it is as if the author turns a key and the story takes off at a rate of knots bringing the tale to a dramatic and fascinating finish.
Laura Cassidy’s Walk of Fame is a well-constructed modern novel. It is a work of some literary skill dealing with obsession and mental illness. It is a challenging read, but a challenge that is worth taking.