x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Book review: Kilroy's latest is based on Irish financial fiasco

The aristocratic protagonist in Claire Kilroy's third novel descends into an allegorical Hell.

The Devil I Know
Claire Kilroy
Faber and Faber

"There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile," begins the summary of Claire Kilroy's third novel, following two acclaimed, award-worthy works. With a plot based on the infamous financial fiasco of recent years, the introductory rhyme seems an apt choice to sum up the Irish property landscape, populated by the vultures' inflated prices and backdoor deals.

Into this allegorical Hell descends Tristram St Lawrence, the 13th Earl of Howth and a recovering alcoholic. Once back home, he is forced into a middleman position in a shady pact made between school bully turned suspicious-ally Desmond Hickey and his AA sponsor, Monsieur Deauville. As part of the deal, Tristram reluctantly tags along to each meeting and cocktail party, recoiling at the boorish pretension of his peers as well as his own weakness in succumbing to their urging.

And so a crooked web is spun, trapping its victims in the inevitable. There are no saints in Kilroy's Ireland and the procession of sinners manages to draw one in further rather than repel. While the aftermath comes as no surprise, the fall is the novel's most riveting aspect.