#2. The Ballad of Mo and G (Billy Keane)

Book: The Ballad of Mo and G , by Billy Keane

Genre: Fiction

Where I got it: Kindle download (bought)

Length: 224 pages

Briefly, it’s the story of a young woman (Mo) who marries into a violent, criminal family, told from the perspective of her friend and would-be lover (G), who wants to rescue her from the situation.

Comments: Online blurbs (e.g. Google Books) say that this book is set in “an unnamed town in the southwest of Ireland”.  It isn’t: it’s set in Dublin.  Dublin is the only place in Ireland with a public transport system called the Luas, postal districts numbered 4 and 12, and a well-known funeral directors called Masseys, all of which are mentioned in the text.  Dublin is a city (the capital, folks), and it’s on the east coast.  G is not a city boy, but the action is mostly in the city, in and around the Olsen’s compound.

The action is violent.  And it rings frighteningly true.  Mo is a victim.  G is essentially too cowardly to help her in any real way.

For me, the two most convincingly drawn characters are Dermo Olsen, Mo’s thug of a husband, and Dermo’s mother, Maureen, herself a long-standing victim of domestic violence (chillingly, she takes it for granted that Dermo may be beating Mo up when they are locked in the bathroom, when in fact they are having sex in the shower), who sees all that is wrong in Dermo and yet loves him and won’t give up on the possibility of his redemption.

On the other hand, G’s mother and father didn’t ring true to me; they were needed to advance the plot, but never became real people.  “Big Matt”, the police sergeant, I found cringe-makingly stage-Irish.

As for the main two protagonists – yes, and no.  At the beginning of the book G says, “Even though I wished it was me she was married to, I was still hoping Mo would be happy ever after with Dermo Olsen. That was until the violence started. I loved her that much. Can you believe that?’  Well, no, I can’t.  Young love is passionate and hormone-driven and wildly jealous, it is not self-sacrificing and altruistic.  So from the outset I was a bit unconvinced by G.  But perhaps this is deliberate?  Are we supposed to know, or suspect, straight away that he’s a coward, that he’s never going to fight for Mo, that he’s a wimp?  And Mo herself, the girl with a disadvantaged background who had some chances given her and then messes them up and makes choices which trap her in a worse situation than her original one – Mo wins our sympathy, of course, but there are points where her character could have been painted in more depth.  For example, when she chooses to go back to the Compound after one night in the women’s hostel – I would have liked to be taken a bit more inside her head at that point.  Of course, the first-person narration by G imposed limitations in that regard.

We are all victims of our upbringing and our social circumstances, this story seems to say.  There’s not much hope of a way out for any of us.  In that sense, this is a dark novel indeed.

Challenges: (1) Reading Round Munster [personal challenge], for Kerry (Billy Keane runs the John B. Keane pub in Listowel, his home town); (2) Full House Reading Challenge, for the category “published in 2013”; (3) Ebook Reading Challenge 2014.