Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review of Bogmail by Patrick McGinley (1978, reissued 2013, New Island)

Roarty, a widower, runs a pub in the small Donegal village of Glenkeel, aided by Eales, his womanising barman.  There they serve drink to Old Crubog who has land Roarty desires, Rory Rua, a fisherman after same land, the Englishman Potter who works for an American mining company, Cor Mogaill Maloney, the young, village intellectual and Marxist, and the local journalist, Gimp Gillespie, watched over the pious local canon and Sergeant McGing.  Enraged by Eales’ fledgling relationship with his daughter, who has recently moved to London, Roarty decides to do-away with the feckless Romeo.  After initially failing to fell Eales, Roarty succeeds, burying the body in a bog in the middle of the night.  Shortly after he receives a note from the bogmailer seeking a regular cash payment into a Dublin bank account for ongoing silence.  Rather than complying, Roarty decides to identify his tormentor from amongst the village inhabitants.  In the meantime, McGing has decided that solving the disappearance of Eales will be the crowning glory of his long career, and Potter has decided to challenge the canon’s authority. 

Bogmail was original published in 1978 and made into a BBC series titled ‘Murder in Eden’ in 1991.  It has been reissued this year, coinciding with a re-run of the series on TG4.  On its initial publication by Donegal Democrat review ran thus: ‘a horrific concoction of filth ... a picture of life in Donegal that is revolting in the extreme ... virtually pornography veneered with an assumption of literary value ... a shocking libel on the people of Donegal.’  The definition of filth and pornography in late 1970s Ireland, a country then still firmly under the thumb of the Catholic Church, was clearly anything that might hint at blasphemy and sex as whilst Bogmail reveals the petty power struggles between the Church and its flock and the sexual goings on in an isolated village, it’s hardly filth or pornography in a twenty first century sense.  That said, McGinley does not portray the isolated villagers of Glenkeel in a favourable light.  Each is self-possessed and flawed by desire, greed or jealousy, seeking something that they can’t obtain, whether that be love, land or belonging.  McGinley uses the plot of a murder and blackmail as device to explore these relationships and the stifling social order and expectations in an Irish village.  In so doing he produces a very literary form of crime fiction that has the feel of a stage play.  The strength of the book is its characterisation, the vivid prose, the sense of place and atmosphere, the intricate dynamics between the handful of characters, and its social commentary on rural Ireland.  The plot itself, however, does not really go anywhere, with the actions of the bogmailer largely fading from view, and the resolution is weak, not because it’s ambiguous but rather that it just sort of peters out.  Overall, an interesting literary read about foiled and limited ambitions and small village tensions.


4 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - The atmosphere in this one sounds great. Thanks for the review.

Peggy Ann said...

This one will be on my shelf too!

Dr. Evangelicus said...

"Under the thumb" seems severely prejudiced. Then, as now, the Catholic Church, was a voluntary organization. No one had to obey the 'house rules' who didn't want to. We're not talking about the Nazi Party.

Rob Kitchin said...

Under the thumb is not severely prejudiced it is an observation rooted in the reality that the Catholic Church ran the education and welfare system and had a highly disproportinate influence on policy and law and could make life extremely difficult for people who did not tow the line. There was nothing voluntary about the influence they exerted in Irish life. For all intents and purposes Ireland was and is a self-acknowledged Catholic State. It is only the past twenty years that there has been secularisation and an erosion of Church power.