"Stories, man,'' marvels Denny Cullen, the shiftless but good-hearted narrator of Trevor Byrne's new novel. "The way they work on yeh. They're a kind o spell, aren't they? Or a prayer, maybe, some o them.''
Indeed, stories - treasured memories, ancient Irish history, any and all manner of tall tales - are the lifeblood of Ghosts & Lightning, a wandering, hilarious, violent, melancholy and always captivating novel that echoes Irvine Welsh's iconic Trainspotting. Move Welsh's beloved Scottish wastrels to Dublin and make them partial to hash and The Pogues instead of heroin and The Proclaimers, and you have Denny and his friends, who can make you laugh aloud as they simultaneously paint a dark and unsettling portrait of poverty and disenchantment in the U.K.
Byrne has a real knack for mixing humor and sorrow without weighing down his freewheeling, picaresque tale, which meanders like a drunk weaving his way from pub to pub. (Stories are necessary, but linear plots are not, apparently.) As the book opens, Denny has come home to Dublin for his ma's funeral - he has been in Wales, ostensibly to get his act together - but as he grieves for her, he soon finds himself mired in his old ways.
Nothing much has changed at home, and, as far as Denny can tell, nothing ever will. His sister Paula still drinks too much. His mate Maggitû is still shifty enough to steal a Christmas present for his kid. Maggit's green-haired brother Pajo is off the heroin and the methadone and on the Buddhism, although he's not averse to leading a seance in a pinch. Somebody has to rid the house of whatever spirit has taken up residence under Paula's bed. Denny's angry older brother Shane is demanding rent on the filthy wreck of a
house. Only nobody has a job except Paula's girlfriend Teresa.
Denny and his friends drink, party, watch TV, bicker, fight, fend off threats and stagger through each day on the dole without expectation. But when death intrudes in his life again, Denny can't help but take a step toward change. Will he find a happy future? Only time will tell. In the meantime, he'll surely find new stories to tell. We hope Byrne does the same.