AFK

Rob Doyle, Here Are The Young Men

Bloomsbury, 304pp, £8.99, ISBN 9781408863749

reviewed by Maya Osborne

Here Are The Young Men is a spew of teenage crisis that Rob Doyle gloriously shapes into a high/comedown sprawl, sweet and agonising in equal measure. Doyle introduces us to Matthew and his mates Cocker, Rez, Jen and Kearney, who, having just finished their Leaving Cert, lurch into the summer of 2003 Celtic Tiger Dublin, riding a violent post-punk wave of excessive drug consumption and crippling youthful cynicism.

“Like, it's great music, but I wish we could hear real music now, instead of what people were amazed by fifteen years ago. It all feels second-hand. The music that they play now doesn't count, cos it just sounds like the stuff they put out back then, regurgitated.”

This is Rez expressing old wisdom, newly discovered through a stoned and paranoid portal, regarding why it is depressing to be listening to vintage music in the prime of youth. The simply expressed frustration that of a generation that is sick of its’ surrounding culture – the culture of its parents, and of its older siblings, all of whom it despises. They've had their fun and they throw us the bones. 

Doyle's seemingly effortless ability to relay Matthew and his friends' creative (albeit practiced) ways to transcend the exquisitely frightening hole of life after school imbues this novel with a lustrous depth. The chapters are sequentially dedicated to each of the four characters, and as the reader pours through the book, the friends’ drug-porn-videogame-sex-moping antics begin to coalesce, to form a definite – and frightening – narrative.

This is a bleak, even tragic novel, and yet it possesses the bright allure of a fully realised world. Doyle is in control of the mental affliction of his characters and their habitat so that you, reader, can simply dance a tight page-turning pirouette, even as everything inside the book is spiralling off sideways. Life is simulation, teetering off into the realms of digital warfare; Kearney's chapters enact this mash-up of computer game and real life. It is starkly clear which of the realms comes off favourably - so much so, that Kearney's gaming fiction begins to impinge heavily on his away-from-keyboard life. 

Although Kearney's inebriated interaction with real life may be the most blatantly shocking in the book, all of the characters suffer from this real/not real affliction in some way. Rez's experience of sex is an agonising imitation of porn (‘He could hear himself panting and see the winces and grimaces he made – he couldn't tell whether these reactions were genuine, or just imitations of pornography, echoes of someone else's long-vanished pleasure.’), Jen escapes Dublin for a gap year during which she hopes to experience life (“Maybe Asia, or South America. Or Africa. I don't know. Somewhere really different. Where do people go?”), and Matthew considers living a life of drug-induced obliteration, inspired by the antics of his druggie acquaintance, Scag. This desperate frustration with real life is highly comprehensible in a post-Matrix world, in which the screened advert simulacrum of life is much clearer than real life. 

Baudrillard's warning, in 1981’s Simulacra and Simulation, that true crime is today insidious, 'making real, palpable violence surface in opposition to the invisible violence of security,' is pertinent here. The brazen and illegal teenage antics of Matthew et al. are responsive to this undercurrent of invisible violence – a violence so quiet and numbing that the only possible response is a neo-existentialist curling inwards. And whilst palpable violence reaches a fever pitch in Here Are the Young Men, it correspondingly remains suspended in ambivalence. Thanks to Doyle's deft ink, the murmur of a greater, wider worldly violence cuts through unique action, reminding us that not all is as it appears.

Although the grit, angst and obscenity may prevent readers from savouring this novel, it is nevertheless a book that deserves time as well as post-read rumination. Doyle's writerly ability, including his tremendous command of narrative, imbues Here Are the Young Men with a vitality that deserves capacious recognition; this is a book to read now.