Wednesday, 17 October 2001

Robert McLiam Wilson: Eureka Street (1996)

Edition: Secker & Warburg, 1996
Review number: 962

We had just moved to London from Northern Ireland when we saw the TV adaptation of this novel; we were entranced by the way in which it seemed to encapsulate so much of the character of the country and the bitter struggle fought over it. Against an atmospheric soundtrack, a moving story full of black humour was very well acted.

Soundtrack and actors are obviously missing, but in all other ways this description holds for the original novel as well. Its main characters are two best friends who, though they come from opposite sides of the sectarian divide, are moderate in their views. Chuckie Lurgan is a Protestant, and in his thirties after a lifetime of unemployment discovers a genius for business which he doesn't understand, when he manages to persuade one of the organisations eager to grant money to ecumenical projects between one ceasefire and the next to give him a large sum with an improvised and ludicrous business plan.

At the same time, Jake is trying to sort out his life after his English girlfriend has left him. He works as a repo man with two bigoted Protestants, who don't know that he's a Catholic; he hates his job. His side of the story is mainly concerned with the ultra-Republican Aorghe, flatmate of Chuckie's new girlfriend, and the street boy Roche, who reminds him of himself as a boy.

The pivotal event in the novel, a bombing in a Belfast café, is described tenderly, while in the remainder of the novel black humour is the main element. It is very much true to Northern Ireland as we experienced it, albeit as outsiders.

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