The First Verse

Posted by on Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

The First Verse by Barry Mccrea.

This is a pretty impressive first novel.  It follows Niall, a young student from Sandycove, Dublin as he enters university at Trinity College Dublin to study French and English as a Beckett scholar.  So, of course, I was going to read this no matter what.  The book traces through one of my favorite cities, in the neighborhoods I used to haunt as a student, and the main character reminds me so much of one of my long-lost dear high school friends that reading the book was almost like a reunion.  And then my long-lost friend found me last week, while I was nose-deep in this book. 

Which is an interesting coincidence, because the plot of the book is all about the spooky power of books.  Niall, a young gay man who is a genius of languages, steps into college life like many young gay men do.  He starts to meet men he can date, relishes his freedom, and starts tip-toeing towards coming out.  He makes his way as a scholar in his own right, set free from the constraints of his family and his former school mates.  He befriends other students and tries to gauge how they’ll react to his homosexuality, and on some level realizes that his own happiness is so much more important than anyone else’s view of him.  It’s lovely.

And then it all goes to hell.  It has to–something needs to drive the novel.  Niall comes into contact with two mysterious older scholars who are involved in a strange form of divination, sortes.   He pesters all hell out of them until they let him into their mini-cult, and then loses himself to their rituals and their crackpot lifestyle.  He also loses touch with his family, lets a promising new relationship fall by the wayside, insults his friends, and founders in school.  So then we have to root for Niall to escape the cult.

The book isn’t perfect, of course.  It ends a bit abruptly.  It tortures the reader a bit too much in spots–we want Niall to regain his senses, to remember how much he loves his friends and his studies, and how intrigued he was by the Dublin gay scene and one particular man.  But despite the small weaknesses of the book, Mccrea did something all too rare–he called attention to some of the complexities of being openly gay, even in post-Catholic Ireland, and he created a gay character who isn’t just about stereotypes or erotica.  His Niall is about so much more than his sex life.  Because, well, isn’t everyone?  The book is a breath of fresh air, despite all of the claustrophobic chanting and studying the characters wallow in.

Filed in Books | 4 responses so far

4 Responses to “The First Verse”

  1. minnieon 12 Oct 2006 at 12:31 pm 1

    sounds interesting. somehow, i doubt it’s at the library, though. i’ll have to check, lol. and i’m still enjoying jonathan strange & mr norrell. he’s just revived the young lady, and now the ministers are trying to decide how best to use his powers against the french

  2. rachelon 13 Oct 2006 at 7:55 pm 2

    Congrats! I count myself lucky in not wanting to weave, otherwise I’d need to throw out my couch or bed. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

  3. rachelon 13 Oct 2006 at 7:56 pm 3

    Okay, obviously that was meant for a different post. Oops.

  4. Jenon 14 Oct 2006 at 9:28 pm 4

    Congratulations on the loom loan/gift! Have great fun. I have the same space issue with my quilting frame. I want to set it up to finish stitching my granny’s last quilt (she is gone from us). I have lots of space, but strangely nowhere for a quilt frame! You know, a post in the middle of my sewing room, other strangely-shaped rooms, etc. We need vast space to craft!

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