Sunday, 25 January 2015

Author, Ruth Long, remembers "The Chisellers" from 1995, as part of #IrishFictionFortnight

DAY 10

One of my favourite parts of #IrishFictionFortnight, is remembering the titles that we were all reading as a young adult, or even what we read in the noughties, 1990s and 1980s.  Here, Ruth Long remembers a trilogy, by Brendan O'Carroll (of Mrs. Brown's Boys fame) that was hugely successful back in the 1990s...

The Chisellers by Brendan O’Carroll
O’Brien Press, 1995

When I was asked to recommend an Irish book from the 1990s, the one which instantly leaped to mind was The Chisellers by Brendan O’Carroll. It’s the second in a trilogy of books centring around the life and family of one Agnes Browne, now better known as the central character of the sitcom Mrs. Browne’s Boys and played by O’Carroll himself. She was also played by Anjelica Husten in the movie Agnes Browne (1999), which was based on the first book, The Mammy and directed by Husten herself.
But it is The Chisellers which really stuck with me, although I adored all three books. Chisellers, to anyone who doesn’t know the slang, means children and the theme of family is threaded throughout the books, The Mammy, The Chisellers and The Granny.
In The Chisellers, it is 1970 and Agnes and the Browne clan—Mark, Frankie, Rory, the twins Dermot and Simon, Cathy and Trevor—relocate from Dublin’s city centre to Finglas. It’s a complex family, with difficulties every family can recognise and more besides. Mark is struggling to make something of himself in his job at a carpenter and discovering he has quite a flare for business. Meanwhile Frankie has become a skinhead, a real issue for his brother Rory who still hides the fact that he is gay from his family. Dermot is becoming an accomplished shoplifter and petty thief, never quite seeing it as more than a game. Simon struggles with his stutter and being branded as “slow” in school, but works though this with his characteristic good luck. Cathy falls in love with a garda called Mick from Cork, much to the consternation of Dermot and friends. But the Browne household ticks on until an unthinkable act of violence forces Frankie to flee home and country. His path intertwines with that of a London gangster called Manny Wise, but in the Browne family, blood is far thicker than water.
The portrayal of family, the characters and the elements of a “true Dub” that the Brownes embody really shine in this book. I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of the sitcom, possibly because of these books. There just seems to be so much more in the trilogy than the TV series offers. The Chisellers is laugh out loud funny, but also incredibly moving. We have detailed and complex characters we really care about and we see their lives progressing throughout the trilogy. They make mistakes, and Frankie in particular, begins a terrible spiral of violence and self-loathing which threatens everything, but the heart of this family endures. Through loyalty, kindness, tolerance and redemption, we follow them through a Dublin that is fast fading, and into a future Dublin that can be so much better.

Ruth Frances Long writes young adult fantasy such as The Treachery of Beautiful Things (Dial, 2012) and A Crack in Everything (O'Brien, September 2014), the first in a trilogy set in the world of demons, angels and fairies that exists alongside our own in modern day Dublin. As R. F. Long she writes fantasy & paranormal romance such as The Scroll Thief (Samhain, 2009) and The Mirror of her Power (Taliesin, 2014). She lives in Ireland and works in a library of rare, unusual & occasionally crazy books.
@RFLong on Twitter, on Facebook, RFLong on Tumblr
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The Chisllers is published by The O'Brien Press and is available in paperback and ebook format

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