"I am twenty-one years old, my name is Ripley Bogle and my occupations are starving, freezing, and weeping hysterically." So announces the eponymous narrator of this alternately hilarious and horrifying novel by the Irish writer Robert McLiam Wilson, author of Eureka Street. Ripley Bogle is a Cambridge dropout from Northern Ireland who's fallen down on his luck. Having alienated everyone he knows--seemingly including the entire population of Cambridge--he disrupts an old girlfriend's wedding, attacks his landlord, and finds himself unceremoniously chucked out onto the street. The narrative follows this handsome vagrant for four chilly June days while he wanders London, ranting and reminiscing in heady stream-of-consciousness prose. Reared amid the poverty and violence of Belfast, Bogle doesn't have a kind word for anyone or anything, including his family ("the usual cast list of subhuman Gaelic scumbuckets") and his countrymen ("As a people we're a shambles; as a nation--a disgrace; as a culture we're a bore ... individually we're often repellent"). What he does have is a great Joycean roar of a voice and a prodigious talent for self-destruction. Bogle can try the reader's patience: some of his tirades read like tragicomic howls of pain, others like pure postadolescent gross-out. The novel's end takes a still nastier turn; even after Bogle's unrelentingly grim portrait of life on the London streets, his concluding confessions manage to shock. Ugliness aside, the sheer wattage of Wilson's prose carries the day, and his narrative has all the momentum--and the queasy fascination--of a car accident in progress. --Mary Park
A Cambridge dropout turned penniless drifter, the unforgettable Ripley Bogle takes us through the underbelly of London and into the surreal world of a vagabond. But Bogle is not your average bum. With a razor-sharp intellect, prodigious powers of perception, and better-than-average appearance ("Most movie stars would give their false back teeth for the kind of lived-in look that I possess"), Bogle careens through the wild streets of homelessness and Irish identity, all the while regaling us with the tale of his ragged Belfast past--and the events that led up to his extraordinary existence.
In a brilliant coupling of sardonic, self-deprecating wit and the lush lyricism of a poet, Robert McLiam Wilson brings us a fiercely modern character with an old soul. Imbued with a grace that is thoroughly at odds with his squalid world, Ripley Bogle gnaws at the fringes of society and skewers its fat heart. The result is a hilarious, unexpectedly touching novel that is destined to become a classic.
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