Kevin Maher’s The Fields is a hilarious, moving and impressively broad coming of age novel set (mostly in Dublin) in the nineteen eighties.
It is dark, it is violent, it is filthy and it is very, very, funny. Ordinarily I would have raced through a book of this quality over a couple of days, however over this Easter weekend – which I spent amongst various beautiful towns in the gorgeous Tuscan countryside – it took me almost five days. The reason? The Game of Thrones boxset my girlfriend took with us.
Kevin Maher’s novel was sold to me, not to give too much of the plot away, as a dark comedy about institutionalised priest-based child abuse in rural Ireland. And it is – there are graphic rape scenes, all told from the ballsy perspective of the victim, who deals with the horror by mocking its seriousness. There will be people, I’m sure, who find the idea of humour originating from such a taboo source inappropriate, but Maher never asks his reader to laugh at the IDEA of the situation, but at the gross reality of a sweaty, guilt-ridden “man of god” forcing sex on and then pleading spiritual love to a naive child. The abuse of trust, the hypocrisy, the cover-ups, the real horrors, these are here – but having the words and the actions and the movements and the promises and the bodily functions of the rapist priest told from the perspective of a deeply shocked and shaken victim allows the villain to be more than just a phantom rapist, but a pathetic, repressed loser as well.
The priest stuff is funny, and not in any way that could be seen as disrespectful.
So, I was reading about a child’s horrific sexual experiences as I watched horrific sexual experiences of a different kind in Game of Thrones (season one). I like to think I don’t like plot, I (intellectually) find it a very weak way to keep an audience interested in a work of fiction, but Game of Thrones managed to JUST ABOUT include enough characters developed on a rounded level to let me not be too annoyed by how many unresolved endings were used to keep the audience captive.
The Fields, however, packs a huge amount of events in, but never feels like it is relying on plot. As well as the sexual abuse, there is familial illness, ageing, disintegration, the loss of childhood friends and innocence, drinking, cult-joining, consensual sexual experiences, running away from home, finding identities… Basically every plot and theme one could potentially find in a coming of age novel is in The Fields. There are central ones, too, not in that list, that I have avoided typing for fear of ruining twists and turns.
Because there are twists and turns, unexpected reappearances and reprisals and happenings – there are characters who reveal depths within themselves, there are nice people who are flawed, there are nasty people with redeeming features. Maher has created an involving, a moving and absolutely fucking HILARIOUS novel about growing up and about all of the awful things that could potentially possibly happen to a thirteen year old boy.
And where this chimed with my enjoyment of Game of Thrones was with this reminder that plot, that narrative, doesn’t have to be a sign of an inferior product. Yes, a lot happens in The Fields, but it is written with wit and charm and humour and had me crying and laughing and creasing with shame throughout. And though the first season of Game of Thrones was limited by the fact that it had a few cardboard characters* and occasional very shoddy interior shots, it offered witty and explorative dialogue in many places. Its narrative is strong – it’s mass media – but the fact that its plot moves at a heady pace doesn’t mean that its character development isn’t enjoyable, that it isn’t pleasant to watch. And, crucially, it didn’t make me feel like an empty-headed moron for enjoying it, which most television does tend to. Am I right?
Game of Thrones, I was surprised to learn, is great fun, and far from terrible.
Kevin Maher’s The Fields, however, is a highly successful gritty, nasty, dark, comedy. I’d highly recommend the book. And, begrudgingly, surrounding it with a plethora of comments to clarify my status as an intellectual, recommend the TV series.
An enjoyable weekend.
For context, the following are some pictures from my weekend.
Here is a picture of me standing by a pile of discarded televisions in a Siena industrial estate:
Here is a picture from inside Lucca Duomo:
And here is its elegant facade:
Here is the Guinigi Tower (also in Lucca), which has trees on it:
And here is the much more famous Leaning Tower of Pisa:
And that’s it!
* If I accidentally get people looking at this who care, Jaime Lannister. A pantomime villain who looks exactly like Prince Charming in Shrek 2.