Vienna, July 2011. With Julian Gough.
"The contemporary world meets its match in The Adorations."
Vienna, July 2011. With Harry Rowohlt.
My novel Killoyle is published by Dalkey Archive Press. Publishers Weekly called it "a virtuoso performance." Harvey Pekar said it ranked "among the most impressive novels in recent years." A survey of booksellers across the U.S. listed Killoyle among "The 100 Funniest Works of Fiction." My second novel, The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad, published by Grove Press, was deemed "a splendid novel in every way" by the eminent critic Steven Moore, and The Village Voice said it "resembles Joyce at his comically prolix best." German versions of both novels, translated by the award-winning German translator and author Harry Rowohlt, were critically and commercially successful. The third Killoyle novel, The Maladjusted Terrorist, also translated by Harry Rowohlt, was first published in Germany in 2006 (as Killoyle Wein und Käse) and has been excerpted in English in The Evergreen Review. You can read this excerpt here. In 2007 Kein & Aber, a Swiss publisher, reissued the entire Killoyle trilogy as a boxed set.
My novel The Adorations, a "novel in double time," takes on the mysteries of mysticism, religion, and Adolf Hitler and was published as a Kindle and Nook e-book in 2012. You can read the first two chapters here and buy it here and here. My latest novel is Ohiowa Impromptu. You can read the first four chapters in Evergreen Review.
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"To jump in anywhere [in Boylan's work] is to be caught up in a totality, a dimension between Pynchon and the Pythons, though more accessible and coherent than that implies."
"Killoyle ranks among the most impressive novels written by an American in recent years."
"A combination of the linguistic aptitude of James Joyce and the hilarious frolics of Flann O'Brien"
"This is a virtuoso performance, filled with truly funny turns of phrase and event."
"Back in its early days, one of the great joys of reading Spy magazine was wading through the funny footnotes printed in the margins. That same pleasure awaits in this hilarious Irish farce . . . that captures the absurdly comic spirits of Joyce and Beckett in its depiction of an Emerald Isle town peopled by some most peculiar folk, indeed. Wallowing in such gloomy, traditional Irish concerns as religious angst and too much booze, Boylan's wacky tale is deftly fleshed out with dense footnotes addressed directly to the reader, a clever technique that, in the hands of this skillful writer, helps provide for heaps of hearty laughter amid all the tears."
"Comparisons to James Joyce will come inevitably. . . . Boylan proves himself capable of spinning a fabulous yarn, as colorful as it is tangled."
"Boylan's debut succeeds as a work in which the telling is more important–and more beguiling–than
"I was hooked . . . Boylan writes with wit and a keen eye for the ridiculous."
The Irish Emigrant
"To the people of Dalkey Archive Press, Roger Boylan's Killoyle must have looked like the work of Flann O'Brien resurrected in a world long gone PoMo."
"A fine first novel, continuing the Dalkey tradition of publishing both Irish humorists and sundry members of the literary avant-garde."
Cups: The Cafe Culture Magazine
"Roger Boylan brings a wholly Irish comic vision to his portrait of [the] small town in Killoyle."
"Killoyle is sure to please those enthralled by the tragicomic history of Ireland, as well as those with a bent for rivers of prose in the Joycean mode."
Dallas Morning News
"Killoyle, An Irish Farce is a wonderful book following in [the] Anglo-Irish literary tradition. And like its Swiftian and Tristram Shandy forefathers, its characters all appear to be running low on luck, but the book is written with such humor and sympathy that their lives are a joy to participate in . . . Buy this book and read it."
Literary Society Review
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"Not since A Confederacy of Dunces has a book been this hilarious to read aloud."
The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad
This sequel to Killoyle follows the hapless inhabitants of that mythological town through the frenetic week of the Pint-Pulling Olympiad. After local lush Mick McCreek gets into a car crash with a cross-dressing church sexton, he enlists a lawyer, Tom O'Mallet. As it turns out, the lawyer's real gig is selling missiles to the IRA, and he plans to use his clueless client as a patsy. O'Mallet also hoodwinks Anil, an Indian waiter who has found himself the unlikely target of a manhunt. What Tom doesn't know is that his lucrative weapons are destined for a massive terrorist attack on the Pint-Pulling Olympiad, and that Anil's cousin Rashmi — a sweatshop worker turned intelligence operative — is hot on the bombers' trail. With a wink and a nudge, Boylan's pyrotechnic prose brings to life Ireland at its manic extremes, proving the author a dazzling and distinctive talent in American fiction.
“Boylan's narrative resembles Joyce at his comically prolix best, with a similar appetite for vernacular nuance and pop allusion."
The Village Voice
"A grand Irish entertainment . . . Roger Boylan explores life’s absurdities with incomparably extravagant wordplay.”
The Financial Times
"You really feel yourself pulling for a rollicking Irish tale like The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad . . Boylan’s satiric follow-up to [Killoyle] offers countless moments of lowbrow, lyrical mirth on the order of Roddy Doyle, Canadian satirist Robertson Davies or stories like Waking Ned Devine . . . Olympiad’s characters, having ‘stumbled a bit on the winding highway of life,’ leap off the page. You’ll really know their tendencies, fears and tastes . . . Boylan’s account of life in modern Ireland rings authentic, and his gifted ear (and pen) are self-evident.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Midwest Book Review
“An extraordinary sequence of episodes . . . highly entertaining . . . Boylan has produced a novel which reads like a mixture of [Flann O'Brien] and Tom Sharpe, with the odd Joycean aside added for good measure.”
The Irish Emigrant
"The Adorations is Boylan's magnum opus, moving like a fugue through the history of 20th-century Europe."
Why does the Archangel Michael recruit Gustave, a hard-drinking middle-aged atheist, into his legions of divine warriors? It's a total mystery to Gustave, who's nobody's idea of a mystic. He tries psychoanalysis to clear up the visions. That doesn't work, but a chance encounter in the therapist's waiting room with lovely Martine Jeanrenaud, a writer, changes his life. Here again is the mysterious hand of that Providence Gustave doesn't believe in: Martine has just published the biography of another reluctant mystic, an Austrian aristocrat and teacher in the early 1900s named Stefanie von Rothenberg, who had regular visions of Heaven and Hell as well as steady visits from a bizarre but tenacious swain named Adolf Hitler.
Meanwhile, Gustave contends in his daily life with further visits from the Archangel and sudden scrutiny from employers and colleagues. He becomes more and more convinced that Stefanie von Rothenberg's story is somehow his story, too, but wonders if he's losing his mind....
"[The Adorations] explores the intersection of history and fantasy in a revealing tale of modern life coming to terms with the recent past. The two principal characters meet by chance in a therapist’s waiting room, one a boozy Geneva professor turned mystic, and the second a biographer of another reluctant mystic from the early 20th century. The novel follows how the professor’s life is transformed by this chance encounter, and his convergence with the biographer's story from another era.
"Visited by the Archangel Michael in a Dickensian vision, Gustave is mystified about why he is being recruited into a legion of divine warriors. His bewilderment intensifies as the visits recur, as his daily life as a middle-aged professor comes under increasing scrutiny by his employers and the authorities. While reading a biography of an early 20th-century Austrian aristocrat, teacher, and mystic Stefanie von Rothenberg, Gustave comes face to face with the book's very attractive author Martine Jeanrenaud in the waiting room of his psychiatrist's office.
"Chapters of Martine's book alternate in their entirety among Gustave's first person narrative in The Adorations. These chapters plunge Gustave into the world of Stefanie von Rothenberg, who was as unlikely a mystic as himself. With recurring visits from both heaven and hell, Stephanie is also drawn into equally tenacious earthly visits from a young and ardent admirer named Adolf Hitler, whom she first met in Linz, Austria in 1907. Gustav experiences a growing concern that he is losing his mind, with the feeling that Stefanie's story is becoming his story too. A novel in double time, The Adorations is Boylan's magnum opus, moving like a fugue through the history of 20th century Europe."
"The Adorations is set in Geneva, Vienna, Paris, and points in between. In time, it covers a century, ranging from before the First World War to the early 21st Century. Boylan knows the places he writes of intimately. Even though you know he cannot have known them during all the eras described, he gives the impression that he just might have been around then too. And known some of the characters he writes about. The descriptions of France under Nazi occupation are masterly; his delvings into the psychology of Adolf Hitler (he is one of the book's characters and the source of its might-have-been backdrop) intrigue; and he has put to very good use his considerable knowledge of the dying days of Austria-Hungary. Yet, for me, what gives the book its edge is the unbidden appearance of the supernatural and its (often comic) effect on the (quite secular) characters."
L. McG. on amazon.co.uk
Essay on The Killoyle Trilogy by Kevin Riordan
(This originally appeared in The Evergreen Review.)
The Killoyle Trilogy by Roger Boylan
by Kevin Riordan
"Nobody reads a book to get to the middle."
- Mickey Spillane
Well, the Mick should know a thing or two about books, but dropping into the middle of Roger Boylan's three books about the quintessential Irish town of Killoyle is a worthwhile immersion. (By the by, that town is all your granny, no such place.) Alas, it is also as far as one can easily get at present, as the third book, The Maladjusted Terrorist, has only been published in German so far (twice), although excerpts can be glimpsed on the web. The first appeared in 1997 from the Dalkey Archive, and was highly praised by the late Harvey Pekar, among others; The Great Pint Pulling Olympiad was put out in 2003 by Grove Press, but they evidently didn't see fit to take a chance on the next installment. But, of course, once Rosset was no longer at the helm, Grove quickly lost its taste for adventurous literature. It seems the bottom line is the most important text you can read, even at that once fearless publisher. Their loss and ours. To jump in anywhere though is to be caught up in a totality, a dimension between Pynchon and the Pythons, though more accessible and coherent than that implies.
A great admirer of Flann O'Brien (disclaimer: as am I myself: I have a trellis named Dermot), who has reviewed his complete works cogently, Boylan does not imitate him, or he would have convoluted his tale with the paranormal and populated his trilogy with mythic Hibernian creatures, and Killoyle, on the South coast of Ireland, is decidedly not Middle Earth, it is all too human for that. The only unearthly creatures here are "the elves of Hangover, armed with anvil and churn." Rather he seems to stand in relation to him as O'Brien does to James Joyce, turned memorably into a Jesuit-obsessed bartender in his novel The Dalkey Archive. That author in turn is memorialized in The Great Pint Pulling Olympiad with the radical splinter faction "The Soldiers of Brian O'Nolan," as ill-advised a group of rebels as you could hope for; it is his incessant humor amid hellishness that links them the most. Subsequent deaths, funerals, shellings and incarceration are all more enjoyable than the last. In each writer’s case, the shadow is too vast to escape, but one can have a lot of fun in the shadows. Both writers at time transport their payloads with Blarney-soaked blatherings that prove the axiom that the Irish tongue is pure revenge on the Queen's English.
Killoyle, An Irish Farce features Milo Rogers, Spudorgan Hall headwaiter, "something of a slum on legs," and amateur poet, with a similar gift to the unseen Jasper Hoolihan or At Swim Two Bird's character Jem Casey, whose doggerel ("A pint of plain is your only man") is simply attributed to Flann O'Brien in pub-decorating posters celebrating famous Irishmen (true, but, just…). As Joyce said with his last breath, "Did no one understand?" Boylan's heroes would be right at home with Donleavy's Sebastian Dangerfield of The Ginger Man (motto: "Dignity in Debt") but these books are works for an ensemble cast.
We are treated to an epic poem at the conclusion of "Olympiad" that Rogers returns to deliver, celebrating every major character in the manner of a Celtic bard, but when the poet comes to his own place in the recitation, he is cut off summarily by the contrarian voice behind a footnote. Ah, those footnotes, proliferating in unprecedented profusion! (That line would have surely provoked one, for its pomposity.) They run through the books straightening the reader out constantly lest we should get the idea that the narrator is to be believed or allowed to get away with foreshadowing, quaintness, blasphemy, or simply, impulsively, to expound on anything that pops into the anonymous footnoter’s head: trenchcoats, blokes named Derek, anything that reminds him of his cousin or an old girlfriend. If a bit of foreign language slips in, there is a footnote to guess helplessly at its meaning. Some are full encyclopedia entries, but to skip them is to deny yourself their perverse pleasures. There is hardly a wasted word in either case, the language is nimble, boisterous and daring. Even if the personae are crashing bores to one another, the dialect is a wonder, and we are told several times, after a few lines of someone's intense accent, that it will henceforth be rendered "in a brand of standard, if oddly tuned, English."
The books abound with startling characters, memorable even if they only appear in a few paragraphs, like Ewer Burke, who "enjoyed nothing more than seeing quivers of embarrassment and disapproval chase themselves up and down the gelatinous jowls of Dundreary's Presbyterian notables like squirrels on tree trunks." Or take Killoyle's pickled Father Doyle, rising from his bed like "Venus on the half shell, minus the beauty. His face was long and pale, with a fringe of beard and sporadic hair; his limbs were stick-thin, with liver spots stamped here and there on the chalky pallor like mud bespattering snowdrifts; his chest varied from hollowness to concavity under the on-and-off pressures of existence and the only bad habits he dared to indulge." The danger in quoting is that it is very hard to stop. I must venture one more though, about the dangers of the third pint: "It led beyond the still habitable borderland of 'a couple of drinks' into the howling wilderness of intoxication." The first book is concerned largely with guilt, grog, gentrification, God-squadders and people whose names start with G. By the second, the local church has become a disco, and other aspects of village life have similarly gone sour.
Not since A Confederacy of Dunces has a book been this hilarious to read aloud. Many shades of Irishmen and immigrants from India are dissected, including the hapless Mick McCreek, who fails brilliantly at a succession of jobs, and Anil Swain and family, late of Mumbai, whose hyperactive involvement in the affairs of Killoyle explode events like the ubiquitous Semtex. The cauliflower ear of a plot gets pounded into a bruised mass by their attempts to seek justice, respect and decent television watching. The second book is subtitled A Mostly Irish Farce, to accommodate the international aspects of the cast.
Among contemporary Irish or Irish-American writers (Boylan currently resides in Texas), the style is perhaps closest to the somewhat tamer Ian Sansom, whose The Impartial Recorder and Mobile Library mysteries give a likewise deadpan take on local culture, his set in "the North of the North of Ireland," but librarians may take a less friendly view of Boylan's work if they see what a scoundrel he has created in his Library Manager, Mr. Finn. And the author could use a few friends. The third leg of his trilogy has yet to appear in English, not for want of trying. Unfortunately, this is another trait he seems to share with O'Brien. A section of Boylan's blog The Snug is devoted to the art of dealing with literary rejection, showing the excellent company he enjoys. Let's hope that some day soon, we can read the Killoyle Trilogy to get to the end.
Below: RB with Anthony Cronin in Vienna, July 2011.