“Wreck everything and for no reason, whatsoever.” Doyle cuts to the heart of youthful dissatisfaction as four Dublin friends
aged 17 to 18 escape the confines of formal education, unleashed on a world they have judged a dark and brutal place. Aggressively rebellious, Matthew, Rez, Cocker, and Kearney are alike in their perspectives, drug-addled and angry, working-class poor, life choices far removed from even their parents’ limited expectations.
With summer just beginning, they are intent on an extended weekend of partying before being subjected to demands that they should get jobs, not lay about and cause trouble. These are the bad boys
who roam the streets and terrify parents--surly, rude, and offensive, tempers flaring and expletives flowing, punk rock nihilists contemptuous of a world that offers nothing but war, poverty, and disappointment.
In Dublin around 2001, the four mirror one another’s demeanors but are different in subtle ways.
Combined, they are volatile and unpredictable, living for the drunken and chemical highs readily available on the streets for a price, the city filled with junkies and the homeless, the boys wandering from one place to another until forced by circumstances and exhaustion to return home to worried mothers and disinterested fathers. Without ambition, most of their school years spent drunk or stoned, their only
purpose is to purchase sufficient substances to demolish the next day.
The only one likely to score high enough on his tests to go on to college, Matthew provides the most consistent perspective, though he is just as bedeviled by urban angst, turbulent sexual fantasies, and violent thoughts as the others, all exacerbated by the pounding music they embrace, the chanting of angry voices demanding destruction. Matthew serves as a link to the others, his longer chapters alternating with those of Cocker and Rez. Kearney’s unintelligible rants promise violent death and destruction, elaborate details of torture and murderous fantasies. Rez and Cocker are happy to follow wherever the group leads them, embracing excess and aggression with equal enthusiasm. Kearney is the most disturbing character, his diatribes liberally laced with expletives and curses.
He sees the world through the darkest lens, his latent violence blooming as the night rolls on, fantasies beyond those of his contemporaries, the need to breach societal barriers, to experience rather than to witness.
In the jagged language of young men at odds with their environment and seething with discontent, the novel flows from one incident, one drunken/drugged excess to another. Matt tentatively navigates an unknowable future, lurching between clarity and semi-consciousness with the others, killing time as 9/11 strikes America.
That event leaves them stunned with streaming images of smoke and annihilation, Kearney newly inspired as he plans a month-long visit to the
States to see his brother. It is a new horizon for a boy with a twisted imagination, newly fueled, ready to embrace his true destiny. During that month, the others digress from their usual pattern. Matthew stumbles through
a painful relationship with Jen, a girl who befriends the group and settles on
Matthew, though neither knows how to manage a relationship complicated by sexual
jealousy. Still, he begins to understand that he has choices: “There’s more to
life than only hate and rage, you know.” Cocker investigates other friendships
while Rez withdraws, making a near-fatal decision that forces the others into unfamiliar introspection. All are aware of the subtle change when Kearney returns, his mind veering into violent fantasies and a sense of mission that pushes all of them over a precipice from which there is no return.
Difficult to read, unsettling as the vision of A Clockwork Orange, Doyle's
novel is fearless in its truth as he captures his characters’ disaffection with visceral prose, a dark, ugly world without hope, young men without futures, a troubling reflection of society’s abysmal failure to recognize the needs of a generation enamored of nihilistic philosophy. Ambition blunted by narcotics, these young men risk losing the thread of humanity that binds them. Distorted thinking, perhaps, but in this dystopian landscape, the boys fashion a practical solution in an intolerable situation.