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Here is The Young Man

Novelist Rob Doyle discusses drink, drugs and philosophy, and how writing has been his great redemption.

Olaf Tyaransen, 13 Aug 2014

Aha, you picked up on the musical reference in the title!” laughs author Rob Doyle, looking suitably impressed. “I suppose when I was a teenager, like everyone, I wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star.”

Doyle might have to settle for being a literary star instead. The title he’s referring to is that of his widely acclaimed debut novel, Here Are The Young Men. The 31-year-old Dubliner filched it from the lyrics of the Joy Division song ‘Decades’, which ends their second and final album Closer.

“I still like Joy Division,” he says, speaking in a Dublin accent undiluted by years of peripatetic world travel. “Music has always been huge for me, but I tend not to listen to very much new stuff nowadays. I guess it happens when you get into your 30s. When I was younger I played guitar in a lot of punk bands. We were bad, but we were passionate. We were called Powerhouse Terminator, which is an absurd name, but it was fun. The band names used to morph every couple of weeks, every couple of gigs.”

It’s a pleasant July afternoon in Dublin, and we’re meeting over a couple of pints. Impossibly tall, artily bearded and looking mildly shattered at the tail end of a debilitating flu, Doyle is in extremely good form nonetheless. With very good reason. Having received almost uniformly glowing reviews for Here Are The Young Men, he’s just got the news that his debut is about to go into its second print run.

He’s pleasantly surprised. Set against the vacuous and vulgar backdrop of Celtic Tiger Ireland in 2003, his novel echoes the likes of Ballard, Banks and Easton Ellis, and is as chillingly bleak as it is blackly comic. The first Irish debut to feature a graphically described snuff movie, it’s hardly your typical Irish bestseller..

The young men of the title are Cocker, Rez, Matthew and Kearney – four troubled Dublin teenagers who’ve just finished their Leaving Cert and are facing into the void of their adult lives. Drifting aimlessly around the city, fuelled by drink, drugs and dark fantasies, they spend their days and nights fleeing a gauche reality that they utterly despise.

Doyle captures teen angst and despair brilliantly, but this isn’t yet another coming of age novel; more like a coming of rage. As the weeks pass, each of these young men struggles to maintain a connection to reality – and they don’t all manage it. Murder, suicide, rape and torture suddenly take a very real shape in their lives.

Doyle smiles uncomfortably when I venture that it reads like the work of an obsessive, if not downright disturbed, mind.

“Well, I am totally obsessive,” he admits. “Usually to my detriment, you know. My obsessive nature certainly got me in a lot of trouble in my earlier years. In the evolution of my life and my psyche or whatever.”

A self-admitted tortured type, he maintains that it’s the act of writing that keeps him on the right side of the edge. “It’s like everything that’s kind of bad, everything that’s detrimental in most walks of life, or in most things you do – when you’re writing, they’re your friends, they’re your tools, you can use them. So if you’re obsessive, if you’re neurotic, if you’re weird – you can write with that. You can use that somehow. That’s the great redemption of writing.”

He grew up in Crumlin with his parents and two brothers (he’s the middle son). “I guess I come from a totally working class background,” he explains. “My father worked in the post office until he retired a couple of years ago. He’s 60 now. He retired at 58. From the time he was a teenager he worked there. And my Ma, she was a housewife for years and then she worked in the post office, too. I actually spent a few years working in the post office as well. So we’ve all gone postal at some stage.”

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