Book Review: John the Revelator

I came across this title when pulling books for my Irish Fiction display in March, and I remembered being so intrigued by the synopsis on the flap of the dust jacket that I hid one of the copies on my shelf in the workroom, knowing I'd get to it later. The debut novel by Peter Murphy, a writer and journalist who's a contributing editor of the Irish Hot Press magazine, John the Revelator tells the story of John Devine--a young teenager who lives with his single, chain smoking, Bible quoting mother in southeast Ireland. Kind of a loner, John develops an obsession with insects, worms and parasites, spends most of his days indoors, and doesn't talk to many of his peers. Watched over by a nosy, imposing neighbor, Mrs. Nagle, and concerned for his mother, who's suffering from a mysterious illness, John struggles with loneliness and boredom. That is until Jamey Corboy comes to town.

Jamey, the self-styled libertine wordsmith with a nose for trouble, draws John out of his shell of loneliness with a friendship that some might describe as reminiscent of that of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn--except more mature, of course. Cigarettes, alcohol, late nights--John's mother might be right when she initially worries and warns her son about this Corboy kid. The two, though, become inseparable, as John finally has someone he can relate to, and Jamey has someone with whom to sharing his writings. One particular outing lands the two in a bit of hot water when John drunkenly desecrates a chapel in a fit of rage, and Jamey video records the episode. As John's mother's health fades, he must deal with the consequences of his actions while supporting and caring for the one who raised him.

Warning: Spoiler below

I found a part of the plot a little unbelievable--John gets off almost scot-free for his holy drunken rampage (even though he's caught on tape) and Jamey's sent to a juvenile detention center and boarding school. But then again, I'm not really familiar with small town Irish law enforcement. Otherwise, I did enjoy the read, and I began to care for John as his mother's health declined and he began to bear the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. Is it a coming of age story? Pretty much. It wasn't boring though, living up to the author Sabina Murray's quote on the back, "John the Revelator is the bastard son of J.D. Salinger and Ted Hughes--ballsy, humorous, and brutally honest." I'd definitely recommend the read, especially if you're in to Irish fiction, coming of age stories, or just good novels about friendships.