Dave Duggan’s impressive début novel inhabits two seemingly very different worlds; the violence-torn streets of Derry, Northern Ireland, and the remote logging camps of the rainforests of Borneo. Larry Mahon, an engineer responsible for constructing the roads that cut into the heart of the rainforest, moves between these two worlds but is an uncomfortable outsider in both. In Borneo, he is aware, in a vague, disquieting way, of the devastation being wreaked on the ecological system and observes the protests against the logging operation by the indigenous Penan people with bemusement. On his trips home to Derry, he views his family and community in much the same detached way; disconnected and rootless.
Two shattering events conspire to force Larry out of his apathetic acceptance of the way things are and demand his engagement in events. A truck he is travelling in hits and kills a Penan boy during a nonviolent protest and, back home in Derry, his brother is jailed and beaten following his involvement in a grenade attack by Republican paramilitaries on a British soldier.
Duggan ably conjures up the claustrophobic, inward-looking nature of the camps, with their male bonding, casual racism and endless quotas to be met. He is equally good on the surreal combination of banal routine and extreme violence on the streets of Derry. Perhaps the counterpoint of the bloodshed, both home and abroad, with the resolute nonviolent protests of the Penan is a little obvious but, overall, this is a fine novel of a man lost in the world and unable to return home.
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