John the Revelator

by Peter Murphy

Set in a small Irish town near a coast. It traces the childhood and young adolescence of John Devine. It is impressionistic rather than narrative driven. It is part a rite of passage novel and part graphic horror. Who’s that a- writing? John the Revelator is the shout and answer refrain of the traditional blues which Lily sings to calm John as a baby and gives the novel its brilliant title. It’s suffused with the bible and smoking, hardly a paragraph goes by without biblical references escaping Lily’s mouth where a permanent cigarette dangles a drainpipe of dead ash. John the narrator and Lily are fine creations and their relationship is the heart of the novel. The other major character is Jamey Corboy who when John first meets him is reading Rimbaud in Africa. Jamey’s friendship liberates the taciturn John. Their attempt to make their own video, a sacrilegious horror movie set on the altar of the church and based on Rimbaud’s curse Merde A Dieu, ends with Jamey taking the blame and being sent to a correctional Boys Home from where he later absconds and turns up in Morocco. Jamey sends John various pieces of his short story fiction and these are reproduced. This device for me doesn’t quite work as Jamey’s “fiction” isn’t on a par with the rest and it tends to diminish him as a character and presence. His mystery is stronger. His prototype would be Berry-Berry in ‘All Fall Down’, Meaulnes in ’Le Grand Meaulnes’ or Motor Cycle Boy in ‘Rumble Fish.’ As I said the main relationship is that between John and his mother and her death and his loss is moving. The prose throughout is rich in imagery with an unsettling microscopic attention to detail.

Spring bloomed, the world exploding with wildflowers, and our garden glowed, asthough incensed. My mother shaped and tended it and sat out after work as the soil exhaled vapours breathed into its pores by the daylong sun. She plucked four petals from the rose bush and placed them in cruciform across her palm. ‘Look,’ she said. ‘The rosy cross.’ My mother among the flowers.

It is also subtly comic. John has a wet dream sequence over a perky female teacher. Also ‘The ferrety-looking lad in the denim jacket is Davy. Acid casualty. Scrambled his medulla oblongata’ There is a tour de force description of a County Council dump in all its manifestations of contour, colour and smell. The author is to be admired for taking a well used theme and giving it a great new twist. Underneath the gothic there is a gentle tender novel which is destined to have a dedicated following. Peter Murphy’s prose is extraordinarily good and each page is sheer pleasure to read.

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