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The following review by Daniel Handler has nothing to do with A Series of Unfortunate Events.

U2 News

The Anti-Odyssey

New York Times, 04.16.00

There is no home in Dublin for the hero of Robert Cremins's new novel.


"What have I been up to?" Midway through Robert Cremins's first novel, the reckless and tipsy Tom Iremonger puts this question directly to the reader. "Let's grab a pint or two of Fursty in the Stag's Head and talk." Cremins's novel has all the lubricated, chatterbox charm of throwing back a few with an Irishman in a storytelling mood -- and some of the bleariness when dawn arrives and he's still up for more. Perhaps one reason Iremonger is feeling so talkative, and so cocky, is that he's freshly returned from what he calls "an anti-odyssey" -- six months spent blowing his inheritance in chic locales. "I got served straight away at the Bureau de Change," he tells us upon his arrival in Dublin. "From my Gucci wallet I pulled out 60 francs, 500 drachmas, 3,000 lira and two dollars. I came back onto Westmoreland Street with a 10-punt note -- the one with Joyce on the cover." It's the only appearance the granddaddy of Irish literature makes in the novel. Despite Iremonger's modest fame as something of an Irish poster boy -- a photograph of him appears in a popular tourist promotion -- our hero and his pals prefer Quentin Tarantino to Seamus Heaney, Jim Morrison to Gerard Manley Hopkins.

They even have some editing ideas about the Mass. "Lose the prayers of the faithful, the offertory hymn, the mystery of faith, the lamb of god and all the rest of it. Make it snappy, 23 minutes max (the length of a sitcom minus the ads)." Just about the only Irish forefathers Iremonger acknowledges are the members of the band U2, whose lyrics provide the novel's title, epigraph and the appropriate if obvious motif of their plaintive hit "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

And indeed Iremonger hasn't. For all his globetrotting, he's held up by some awfully familiar roadblocks. His former flame, his old school rivals and his disapproving family drive him to his familiar pubs with increasing regularity. But the local brews are just about the only things that have remained comforting in Dublin. "I was woken up at some unspeakable hour by the sweet melody of 'Away in a Manger,' broadcast by the bells, the electronic bells, of Owenstown Hill's parish church, St. Joseph Stalin's. Undoubtedly the sweetest feature of this community service was the slight delay every fourth or fifth note designed to convince my fellow parishioners that the bells were being rung by real fallible humans just like themselves." In an Ireland in which traditional icons have been relegated to 10-pound notes, Iremonger feels as displaced at home as he did abroad.

While checking on what's left of his inheritance, Iremonger notices a bit of symbolism in the paperwork: "In the office-use-only portion of the form, a word caught my eye, a little bit of bank jargon -- narrative." Unfortunately, this is almost the only place where readers of "A Sort of Homecoming" will get any. Cremins keeps on pouring the details, but he doesn't quite fashion them into any clear arc; even when interesting premises surface -- an illness scare, Nazi-sympathizing skeletons in the family closet -- the author and his hero seem equally eager to get on to the next round.

Some of the more hedonistic incidents here might tempt you to place Cremins in the company of such brash young writers as Irvine Welsh or Will Self ("Let me get this straight," a friend says to Iremonger, "You want to buy heroin in broad daylight at the Irish Museum of Modern Art"), but this novel stumbles rather neatly into the rambling if charming conventions of traditional Irish storytelling. Those seeking the harder stuff might be advised to try the British pub across the way -- when it comes to intoxicating substances, Iremonger is a Guinness drinker at heart.

But as our hero says at church, "I'm not listening for content. Trinity-smart, I know how chronologically dodgy this nativity story is. It's the voice that gets me." Readers willing to surrender to the pint-fueled attitude of the teller, rather than the dodgy wanderlust of the tale, will find a voice that's worth shelling out a couple of Joyce notes for.

Courtesy of Chris Conroy