The sun on the lake sparkles. Only a laden, dark cloud in the distance has the audacity to ruin the perfect picture. Bernard has one eye on it, knows how things loom, how those clouds can hover, then open and pour, drench, saturate. But not yet. There’s a few more hours of this brightness, and he’s intent on enjoying it.
He’s very happy to be sitting out in it with this pretty American by his side: Laura. Laura from Texas. Blue-eyed. Bouncy. Beautiful. They both sit on the edge of the main pier and stare out at the lake, the sound of gentle lapping under their feet. It’s almost idyllic. So many scenes like this can be found in spots all over Killarney. Some famous, well-trodden places. Some hidden treasures that await discovery.
This is just one of the frequented runs, but yes, it is, for the most part, an almost-idyll. Perhaps he would take away the fishermen in boats to make the picture perfect; bit of Photoshop here, airbrush there, erase that black cloud for a start. Then it would be just right, perhaps. Bernard would be happy to sit forever like this. Just gazing out. Of course, if the picture is to be absolutely perfect then he’d have to substitute Marian for Laura. Then it would indeed be an ideal. Too many adjustments? Is this the way it is to be with him? Always too many adjustments?
Killarney Blues was a quick read for me – quick because I wanted to keep on reading till the very last page – all in one sitting if I could have. I read it in one day, and I loved it.
In Killarney Blues, the county of Killarney, in Irish Cill Airne, meaning “church of sloes”, is in County Kerry, in southwestern Ireland. A popular tourist destination boasting more hotels and hostels than any other county outside of Dublin, it is by the northeastern border of Lough Leane (Loch Léin, meaning “lake of learning”), and is by itself a character in O’Sullivan’s tale about the lives of two friends, Bernard Dunphy and Jack Moriarty, and the different paths their lives have taken since one fateful day in the past – a day whose memories lie hidden beneath all the layers they’ve since put over whatever innocence they both lost.
Bernard is a jarvey, a driver of a jaunting car popular with the tourists who come to Killarney each year, pulled by an old and ill horse named Ninny. Bernard is considered weird by the townsfolk because he’s slow, and keeps to himself most, if not all of the time. He is coddled by his mother, Brigid, who still makes him huge sandwiches and even tidies his room though Bernard is already thirty years old. They only have each other, ever since John Dunphy, Bernard’s father, drowned in the lake when Bernard was only six or seven, a strange thing since John was known to be an expert fisherman.
Bernard is obsessed with the blues, playing them on his guitar and recording himself on CD’s that he gives to his childhood friend Jack and the love of his life, Marian, even though Marian has asked him not to give her anymore. She accepts them though, and even plays them when she’s alone, for her two friends, Cathy and Mags sure give her a hard time for tolerating the poor man’s attentions. Bernard loves blues so much that even when Marian’s cousin gives him a nasty beating outside the pub one night, all Bernard worries about are not exactly if he’s all in one piece, but mostly whether his hearing is still intact, and his fingers aren’t broken. Because how can one sing and play the blues if one can’t hear it or play it?
And then there’s footballer Jack (to us Americans, this would be soccer though), handsome and easygoing, with an undercurrent of danger lurking beneath the exterior. There’s a rage in Jack that attracts people to him, especially the ladies. Perfect for football, unless they pull the red flag on you and ban you from the game for life.
Even though he’s kinda got a main girl, nothing stops him from bedding a pretty tourist now and then. It’s the thrill of the chase that Jack likes, the conquest afterwards, before life goes on as usual, and he’s back at work at the garage, or on the field with his mates for another game, or to the pub drinking and hunting again.
There’s a heavy undercurrent of sadness in Killarney Blues, and a lot of secrets. Sad secrets. It surrounds every character like the fog that comes down before the dawn, before or after the rain. Even when the sun shines on a couple rare days on Killarney, and there’s not a cloud in the sky, there’s the thought of impending rain that’s sure to come, just like the thought of a menace that’s fast approaching and there’s nothing anyone can do to avoid it. It’s a story about how one man’s actions steer the course of so many people in so many different directions, splits friendships and cleaves into the core of a boy’s innocence, planting a seed of darkness that simply awaits a sunny day to give it the energy it needs to sprout and bloom.
But don’t get me wrong about Killarney Blues. This isn’t a sad book, not by a long shot. There’s a great sense of hope within the pages, and each character comes to life under O’Sullivan’s pen. His words swagger with purpose, never meandering too long on a scene, always moving the story forward, even when it goes back in time, like a faded photograph coming into view. Lyrical to a point, one word flowing to the next, hardly stopping. I read this novel and saw a movie in my mind – that’s how each page appeared to me – and that’s a good thing.
This story reminded me of a beautiful vase, now shattered to pieces on the floor. But with each piece picked up and glued back into place, a narrative came into being, with each piece representing a character, beautifully written with all their flaws and realism, broken by their own imperfections and weaknesses. But most of all, the dropping of the vase, once beautiful, representing by the act of a man, long gone, though his actions reverberate through the years, waiting, waiting for those sunny days in Killarney, when the sun finally gets to shine on that long buried seed, giving it the energy it needs to bloom – for good, and for evil.