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Friday, 23 June, 2017

A Ton of Malice by Barry McKinley review – a wild, funny debut

School should be a springboard to something, and so it proves for Barry McKinley. Pulled up for daydreaming, he resolves to leave Ireland for “a life you can barely imagine, full of sex, sin and soccer on Saturdays”.

In 1979, Barry leaves his small town, first for Dublin and then for London, where he struts into a job in the nuclear industry. His is a life of constant motion, skipping between grubby flats, street corners, scams and altercations, chugging whatever intoxicants he can get his hands on.

McKinley’s novel-cum-memoir – “It’s almost all true,” the playwright explains on the flap – is a wonderfully immediate portrait of a distant world, when you could still rent a flat off Oxford Street for £60 a month, Irish migrants were an underclass of their own, pubs were rougher and cigarette smoke filled buses and tube trains.

There is precious little affection in Barry’s life, and his only anchor is an ex-girlfriend he recalls with obsession. He reads at times like a speed-addled Dorian Gray, his handsome face and desperate insolence smoothing his path while his heart congeals. Wild, funny and furiously unsentimental, this is a fine debut.