What an incredible first novel. No, what a brilliant novel. Full Stop.
I was an English teacher in a former life and I know the narrator of The Middle Place. I taught him. I taught plenty like him and they were great ‘craic’. Cheeky, chirpy, funny, confident. You had to like them.
But you also knew that though they were popular, they could be unkind and were not always self-aware. But somehow you knew that when they grew up, they would turn out all right.
Kealan Ryan’s antagonist Chris reminded me of them. And he was turning into a better man, had married a wonderful woman and had a son. Then this happened.
‘ONE PUNCH. THAT WAS ALL.
NOW I’M DEAD. BUT NOT GONE. STUCK IN THE MIDDLE PLACE.
WATCHING MY FAMILY TRY TO COPE WITH THIS TRAGEDY.
WATCHING MY KILLER. HOPING TO GET MY REVENGE. I JUST HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW.’
The writing style is natural, easy, conversational. The narrator is a funny guy, who has kept his sense of humour in death and sees the irony of his situation. But there will be tears as well as laughter, as both you and he watch his family and friends get on with their lives.
And how can he get revenge? He is dead after all.
Then there are the bigger philosophical questions about life and death. The million-dollar question of where do we go when we die? Can we watch over our loved ones? Are we wandering around in some limbo or purgatory? What exactly can we do? Are we sentient beings in death?
It often takes a while to ‘get into’ a novel, but this will draw you in from the opening pages, and you will not be able to put it down.
You see ‘The Middle Place’ is one of these rare books that will have universal appeal; even Graham, who is not a great reader, is totally engrossed.
A winner of the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair, ‘The Middle Place’ is Kealan’s first novel, although he also works as an actor and film producer. He wrote and starred in the feature film ‘Lift’ which has won multiple international awards. I’m pictured with him (below) at the book launch in Hodges Figgis in Dublin.
If you are looking for a book for your Book Club then this would suit all tastes and give you plenty to discuss too. I also think that it would be an excellent choice for the English syllabus in schools, as it would particularly appeal to young men…and they can be a difficult demographic to please and engage.