MICHAEL MAGEE - CLOSE TO HOME
I am gloriously fed up repeating myself - here is another brilliant new novelist coming out of my wee place.
Michael Magee has gifted us a direct journey into the heart of a community and the soul of one young man’s attempt to get over the hurdles in his way to a life fulfilled.
Magee has a great geographical understanding of Belfast. Well, actually West Belfast, South Belfast and the city centre. I love books that hint at places I know. Magee has you on street corners, outside cafes, sitting on steps and inside shops that you know.
He has also a deep understand of the psyche of a West Belfast man in his twenties. All the hopes and the plethora of issues that dash those hopes are navigated with raw honesty.
Written through the soul of Sean whose side we are on from the start. Whether he decks that South Belfast student or not we feel that he’s a good one undeserving of his 200 hours of community service.
There begins a tale of the class division in Belfast, mostly lost beneath the sectarian one. As someone who helps organise the 4 Corners Festival I am so aware that there could be an Andy in East Belfast totally relating to Sean’s danger of getting stuck but no one in South Belfast might understand.
So, Sean, after returning with his degree from Liverpool is trying to escape home, at least the drugs and drink and thieving and poverty and trauma both personal and societal past. In a game of Snakes and Ladders we watch in hope and despair.
Magee is a gifted writer, every character is believable and he has Belfast to a tee. The narrative is gripping and the gift for the reader is that he takes us into homes and bars and lives that we might never get into. We feel how people are struggling with just a mile or two from where we read it. He also challenges that classism that the Good Friday Agreement has widened the gap between those who have and those have not.
In the end it comes down to choices. Choices that might seem like a betrayal of your family and friends. A choice to put yourself in an environment that might set you free rather than keep you captive. If Sean had been 10 years older he would have been quoting Oasis - “Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say/Chained to all the places that he never wished to stay.”
A stunning debut!