Review: “From Out Of The City” by John Kelly


Ireland, not three decades from now, and Dublin is a fetid swamp of danger and despair. The President of the United States, Richard Rutledge Barnes King, over here for a visit to the “old spawning grounds”, has just been assassinated.

An eighty-year-old man called Monk sits at the centre of a spider’s web of surveillance, watching everything and following especially the every drunken, druggy move of his neighbour, a man half his age, a former Trinity lecturer by the name of Schroeder.

The murder of America’s potentate – the most potent potentate potential – and the search to find his killer in the violent and steaming ruins of Dublin, would surely make for a mighty thriller. But this is to be no thriller, mighty or otherwise, as its ancient narrator keeps assuring us and this book is not and will not be allowed to be about the regicide of President King. This is to be a catalogue of dysfunction in a world gone wrong and any intrigue or heart-pounding, page-turning dread is your own business.

John Kelly‘s new novel was once going to be called “Everything is Broken” and that is a theme which resonates throughout. Systems, relationships and people, everything is indeed broken. “From Out Of The City” is a densely-packed work, bristling with ideas. In a world of exponentially-increasing connectivity, does privacy even exist? What happens when the tabloidization of the media intersects with the pornification of popular culture? With the sum of all human knowledge instantly knowable, what is the point in actually knowing anything?

This is a beautifully-written book, cerebral, erudite and immersive, but it’s more than that too. Using the conceit of a novel-within-a-novel and an almost but not quite omniscient narrator, Kelly slyly subverts the reader’s prejudices at almost every page’s turn. He writes lyrically, understanding that words are the same as music and his tune is very sweet indeed. And just in case he feels tempted to lose the run of himself, he lets the main characters rip the living piss out of him at the first sign of Notions.

This is speculative fiction, rather than science fiction. Or, as Kelly puts it, “no robots or flying cars”. It’s the kind of book that gets into your head. Well, that’s what I’m crediting for the apocalyptic dreams of surveillance and seabirds anyway.

One more thing to say: it’s hilarious. Laugh-out-loud funny and laced with the kind of humour which leaves you smiling an hour later. I cannot recommend “From Out Of The City” highly enough. But don’t trust me. Trust yourself. Read the first chapter. It’s brilliant. Here.

Donal O’Keeffe

“From Out Of The City” by John Kelly is published by Dalkey Archive and is currently available in Hodges Figgis, Dawson Street, Dublin and nationwide.

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