Review – Boys Don’t Cry by Fiona Scarlett

Review - Boys Don't Cry by Fiona Scarlett

An incredibly accomplished debut that says more with less, and has Dublin stitched into it's very fabric.

Oh yes they do. And I can confirm that boys cry because this novel genuinely did squeeze more than a few tears out of me, and I had just began to assume that the ongoing lockdown had left me incapable of feeling anything more complex than boredom and biscuit-lust. The remarkable thing about this novel is that the feelings it elicits in the reader are not cheap. Rather they feel earned, wrought by the depth of feeling the reader develops for the two main characters, Joe and Finn.

And they are beautiful characters. Finn is 12, a picture of playful innocence, not yet ground down by the poverty and degradation of the inner-city tower complex his family call home. Joe, his 17 year-old brother, is determined to shield Finn from the hardships he knows are coming, from the poverty of their surroundings, domestic violence, from their own semi-gangster father. What Joe cannot shield his younger brother from is the leukaemia which eats away at him day by day. Joe is highly intelligent, a scholarship student at a private school, and a gifted artist. The narrative beautifully conveys how difficult it is for Joe to assimilate to either of his environments. At school, he is regarded as a rough oddity, at home his quick intelligence puts him at odds with his peers. His lynchpin to a sense of belonging is his brother Finn, and as he watches that connection weaken day by day, the reader is pulled along with him, to devastating emotional effect.

Review - Boys Don't Cry by Fiona Scarlett
Scarlett writes Dublin as if it’s ingrained in her, and it shows.

The setting for this brilliant novel is just one inner city tower-block among many, this one called Bojaxhiu or ‘The Jax’. Scarlett’s descriptions of inner-city Dublin seem honestly come-by. There is no voyeur’s exaggeration of the level of poverty and violence, nor is there a whitewashing of the decay and strife that pervades these neighbourhoods. Scarlett writes Dublin as if it’s ingrained in her, and it shows. Joe himself is a product of this neighbourhood, yet his inability to feel a sense of true belonging to it is something that resonated very deeply with this reviewer. I daresay it will hit home with countless others too.

The prose in this brilliant debut is used sparingly enough. Only 30 pages in, the reader becomes aware that Scarlett is a real talent, a writer capable of wresting a smile or a twist of the heart in very few words. The depth of feeling, the descriptive quality of her writing (you can almost smell the orange-peel, steel bins and grass of the courtyards) and the complex characters; all of this is conveyed in snappy, elegant prose. It’s astonishing that this is only Scarlett’s first novel.

Do yourself a favour, buy it now. You can get your copy from the LitVox Bookshop.

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