Book Review

The Gone Book

Helena Close

Little Island €9.99

It’s difficult not to fall for a book which opens with the line: “Dutch Gold tastes like piss.” Other truths in this novel, narrated from the perspective of 15-year-old protagonist, Matt, are not always quite so funny. It’s not funny, for instance, that Matt is so damaged by his mother leaving home five years previously that he keeps a secret journal,  the ‘Gone Book’ of the title, in which he writes to his mother regularly, telling her exactly what he thinks of her. Caught between missing her profoundly and hating her for leaving, Matt is a confused, wounded teenager. But he figures he’s not as messed up as his older brother Jamie, or his ever-tearful younger brother Conor.

All three brothers live with their father in an apartment in central Limerick where they watch over the city ‘like God’ from a height, loving its beauty but unfortunately getting caught up in its ugliness too. Matt’s best friend Mikey provides much of the humour and Mikey’s mother offers Matt a kind of practical maternal succour. His father is doing his best, he’s given up drinking, but he’s now addicted to AA meetings and half-marathons and forcing little Conor into punishing swim training schedules. When Matt discovers his mother is back in Limerick, he decides has to see her. He needs to know why she left and why she’s never been in touch since. The initial encounters between mother and son are so authentic in their awkwardness, they’re just breathtaking. Limerick is no Hollywood and teenage boys are not renowned for their emotional eloquence, and Close plays a blinder in her construction of these scenes in particular. Her characters are utterly authentic, full of human failings and she captures the sheer pain of growing up, of being left behind, of having to keep stumbling on, with utter accuracy and verve. Gritty and funny, but also tragic, it’s a fast and furious ride.

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