Thanks to New Island books for supplying the review copy of this title...
A mature student, a struggling artist and a small time drug dealer cross paths at a Galway house party and while their lives are all varied, they each have their own story to tell. Stevie is embarking on her PhD in medieval history and is hopeful that she can now begin to live her life in a broader sense. Joe (Kavanagh) is still not sure what he wants to be when he grows up, despite completing an art degree. He has a mash-up of temporary jobs, a penchant for booze and weed and dreams of tattooing tourists in Thailand. Pajo is a stereotypical, wannabe drug dealer with a small-mind and big ideas. He treats his women as bad as he can, yet they keep coming back for more. The aspirations of these fictional residents of Galway are limited and the stories inevitably cross over during the course of the novel.
The advance reviews for this title were strong. Comparisons were made to some of Ireland's modern literary talents and the front cover quote from Nuala Ní Chonchúir, which states 'This is a writer who is here to stay' is a fine accolade for a debut author. The stunning, and ethereal, cover design is also note worthy for its effective simplicity. It cries to be picked up from a display shelf of over-thought paperback designs, and the need to turn the wrist and read the back cover is almost instinctual. The blurb is fairly generic and conceals the high standard of writing and depth of the narrative, actually understating the overall package of this piece. This is not just an average story of boy meets girl or friend becoming foe. It's a story of cause and effect. How a new friendship can change your perspective on life, how your goal posts can shift as the days and weeks progress. How one persons idea of love is another's nightmare. The power of overwhelming expectations, from within , is part of Stevie's story. What she had envisioned as a fulfilling journey, through academia, brings old scars to the surface and she attempts to ignore the warning signs. Kavanagh is loved up, beginning to see his future on the horizon and even plans his great escape from Galway. Meanwhile, Pajo is concerned with an attempt to muscle in on his business and keeps his ear to the ground, while keeping his women on their knees, literally.
There are some razor-sharp observations among the 250 pages of this book. The characters hop off the page and take on a life of their own. Galway is described honestly and without rose-tinted glasses. Admirably, the author tells of the local's boredom, and often resentfulness, of the 'Irishness' of the City. The continuous playing of Galway Girl in the shops and pubs, the 'traditional' meals served in restaurants and the annual influx of tourists are hard to avoid in such a small area. There is a common thread with each character. They each have little or no dealings with their families. They have escaped to Galway, not realising that it can be just as cloying there as in the family home.
Not a huge amount happens in this novel. Just like real life, the humour comes from everyday happenings, ordinary people and one-off occurrences. The kind of 'you'd have to have been there' moments, that we have all come across. There is a bohemian feel throughout the book, the characters each having a spirit of freedom that comes with having no responsibility. A mixture of dark comedic scenes, fantastic characters (Gavin, a fellow PhD fellow was just incredibly funny) and powerful writing make this an assertive debut. A new voice in literary fiction, but a confident one.
Skin Paper Stone is published by New Island and is available in paperback and ebook format