Eureka Street – Robert McLiam Wilson

And another reread from my mother’s library. I’ve read Eureka Street several times and always loved it. This time I read it as a part of Ireland related reading-spree. Since I moved to the UK I was saying I should learn more about The Troubles, as the only thing I remember is vague mentions of IRA on the news in the 1990s. I had only the most superficial understanding of the conflict and hardly any awareness of its timeline.

My education started with the Milkman, which I still have to review. But I was so fascinated by that book, that I swiftly moved on to a non-fiction take on things with Reporting the Troubles, a series of memories of the journalists reporting the conflict for over three decades. Two very different perspectives, but both helped me to start forming at least a vague idea of the situation. Reading Eureka Street after that was a new experience, it allowed me to understand things I glossed over earlier. Appreciate their importance more.

It starts with a claim that: “All stories are love stories” and it is not wrong here, but don’t let it scare you, the book is not a sentimental romance. When I read it the first three times it had me laughing out loud and crying from laughter. It is a funny book, it is also a very not funny book at times. Mostly it is a story of Jake, a Catholic, and Chuckie, a Protestant living in Belfast in the 1990s when the peace negotiations are still going on and cease-fires are starting.

Jake is thirty-something, has been abandoned by his English girlfriend, Sara, who could not live in a city torn apart by violence every day anymore. An ex-hard-man, living in a nice neighbourhood (the house is the only thing left from his life with Sara) with an antisocial cat, Jake is looking for love. As he himself admits he falls in love every five minutes. And just as frequently gets his heart broken, despite being relatively handsome.

Chuckie is thirty and fat. The highlight of his life is a picture with the Pope, his obsession with famous people rendered him being a Protestant irrelevant in that situation. Chuckie and Jake against all odds are friends. On his thirtieth birthday, Chuckie decided to change his life. He comes up with a scheme to gather the initial pool of cash required and from then on his business thrives on grants awarded to his more and more crazy and abstract ideas.

Jake and Chuckie sort out their lives while Belfast tries to sort out its problems. People die, they die almost every day and if they don’t die they are hurt. Wilson writes about death in a focused language, without gore, but with the exact and actual horror, it is. The description of the bombing is one of the most moving scenes of this type I’ve ever read. People died brutally, they had their lives, they had families, they had people waiting for them and they died because someone decided to kill civilians to make themselves heard.

As funny as Eureka Street is it is also very serious when it comes to the Troubles. It was not funny, it was not fair, it ruined countless lives. It made no sense. And I think this is the most ringing accusation coming from this book, it made no sense. And then there is the redeeming power of love. There is hope. It still is one of my favourite books, with a mix of funny and serious similar to Catch 22.

5 thoughts on “Eureka Street – Robert McLiam Wilson

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