Thursday, May 9, 2013
Review of Bogmail by Patrick McGinley (1978, reissued 2013, New Island)
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.