An Irish Butch and Sundance? Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street: The finest novel ever written about the Troubles in the North of Ireland

All stories are love stories...

All stories are love stories…

I started reading Eureka Street one evening when I was working in Angola. I had no expectations of the book and began reading it really only because a friend had given it to me. I was hooked by the first page. In the end I had to take an afternoon off work to finish it I was so gripped. I think someone has described this book as “the Irish War and Peace… with better jokes than Tolstoy”.

I’ve not read War and Peace yet. Rather Eureka Street reminded me of some of the classic “buddy” movies, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with its shifts between high comedy and brutally realistic violence and its focus at core on the friendship between Chuckie and Jake. One is Protestant and the other Catholic, but this is incidental. There is no heavy handed nonsense about friendship across the barricades in the book. Such friendships are commonplace in Belfast as elsewhere. Rather the book is about ordinary young people trying to live ordinary lives in Belfast in the early 90s. Hence this involves drinking, chasing girls and trying to make a living.

The result is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read as it details Jake’s efforts to recover from a broken heart and Chuckie’s efforts to become rich. Of course this is Belfast during the Troubles so violence intrudes shockingly: modest dreams are no defence against buffoons with guns and bombs intent on putting the world to rights.

The book is a testimony to why Belfast is the greatest city in Ireland – blasted to bits for years by invaders and locals alike and still a home to great love, great humour, great decency and great tea!

A masterpiece!

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