Disturbance – Jamie O’Neill – a second opinion

D2One of our members, who had unavoidably to miss our discussion, has a very different view from that of the concensus so I have added it here:

Jamie O’Neill’s Disturbance (1989) perhaps wrongfoots the reader because of the absence of the endearing and very clear gay sensibility that is such a strong feature of his later, much better known At Swim Two Boys (2001). It would be a pity, however, if the absence of a gay theme were to be allowed to obscure Disturbance’s considerable strengths. This is such a funny (ha ha) and sympathetic book that the horror which eventually emerges is all the more frightening and unsettling. The first-person narration vividly inhabits the mind of a teenage boy, Nilus/Niall, and the reader is invited to empathize with his off-beat perspective from the outset. O’Neill is a wonderfully skilful writer, and his ability to present Nilus’ humorous observation of other people’s foibles comes across initially as engaging as a sort of Irish Catcher in the Rye. The adolescent psyche is almost by definition a bit disturbed, but often very sweetly affecting as well, and that sweetness is beautifully present in Nilus. It is, then, all the more horrifying to discover that the mind that we have been empathizing with is so very much more disturbed than we at first thought. For my part, I was more than three quarters of the way through the novel before I realised what was going on. Reading in the small hours, it was actually a frightening moment and one that will stay with me for some time. And that, I think, is a measure of the strength of this novel. Its presentation of a seriously disturbed mind is evocative and distressingly powerful.

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