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For The Good Times

David Keenan

Award-winning author David Keenan’s second novel plunges the reader into the dark night of Belfast in the 1970s: an era of military terror and sectarian violence, of occult visions and religious intensity.

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Sammy and his three friends live in the Ardoyne, an impoverished, predominantly Catholic area of North Belfast that has become the epicentre of a country intent on cannibalising itself. They love sharp clothes, a good drink, and the songs of Perry Como – whose commitment to clean living holds up a dissonant mirror to their own attempts to rise above their circumstances. They dream of a Free State, and their methods for achieving this are uncompromising, even as they fully indulge in the spoils of war.

Keen to make a difference, the boys find themselves in the incongruous position of running a comic-book shop taken over by the IRA. Their clandestine activities belong in the x-rated pages of graphic fiction: burglary, blackmail, extortion, torture, and murder – and they become transfixed by the initiatory possibilities of free-reign criminality.

But when punk rock arrives and the hard edge of the decade starts to reveal its true paranoid colours, Sammy finds himself increasingly isolated, especially after bizarre and gruesome away days in Glasgow and London. Camaraderie and loyalty is the fuel of a terrorist cell. When those virtues prove faulty, the game is up – and Sammy’s world starts to shrink as he is assaulted by terrifying visions.

For the Good Times shouts and sings with visionary depth and power. It is not just a book about the IRA, but an exploration of what it means to ‘go rogue’, of the heartbreak and devastation that commitment to ‘the cause’ can engender, of ideas of martyrdom, fatherhood, and self-sacrifice. It unpacks any dewy-eyed romance associated with the Troubles while re-visioning it as a time of psychological and spiritual intensity where the nature of day-to-day reality itself was up for grabs. And through a dizzying amalgam of modernist prose, roughhouse vernacular and hallucinatory Irish humour, it establishes David Keenan as one of our most fearless literary stylists.

Critic Reviews

Demented brilliance . . . reminiscent of Roberto Bolaño . . . crosses into a territory somewhere between John le Carré and Thomas Pynchon . . . kaleidoscopic in its verbal intricacies and its blending of religious language with “wash your mouth out with soap” language. It is serious in a way in which many novels are not really serious, and yet manages a kind of manic comedy at the same time. The quality of the prose is some of the most lyrical and gruesome that I have read for a while. It also takes religion seriously, in a way that reminded me of Iris Murdoch in her prime. It is, and I mean this as a genuine compliment, ghastly.

Critic Reviews

One of the most inventive writers at work right now. . . A gasp-inducing thrill of a ride . . . A savagely funny, sharply observed novel that feels as pertinent to today's febrile climate as to the world it so smartly recreates.

Sarah Hughes, i paper
Critic Reviews

Written with the blackest of humour, particularly in its exquisite dialogue, and the constant laughter balances the darkening vision of the narrator as he comes to maturity and is unhinged by what he has seen and done . . . increasingly elemental in its energy . . . There is a pulsing beat to the prose, accelerating rhythms built of comic repetition, bawdy vernacular and shocking collisions. For the Good Times becomes a compassionate portrayal of men whose humanity is deformed by the Troubles; it is a dark voyage into and ultimate rejection of the idea that it is in violence that man’s true potential is revealed.

Financial Times
Critic Reviews

Gleefully imaginative ... This fantastic, terrifying novel is phantasmagorical, high-velocity gothic ... All the good stuff is there: dark forces, portents, labyrinthine passages, the recurrent idea of the double, inversions of good and evil on an epic scale ... Bravura hallucinatory accounts, comic book narratives, Biblical allusion, Irish joke interludes and really funny dialogue ... make For the Good Times an unsettling, thrilling read.

Critic Reviews

Simultaneously repellent and brilliant . . . One of the most strikingly written novels I have read for a long time, and, if you can stomach the violence, often one of the funniest.

Sunday Times
Critic Reviews

A frenzy of Scorsesean gore, paranoia and debasement with a surrealist edge . . . In practically every crackling line of tough, trippy and guiltily laugh-out-loud funny prose . . . It proves why the Airdrie-raised and now Glasgow-based author is one of the most hotly-tipped Scottish writers of the moment.

Malcolm Jack, Scotsman

David Keenan is the author of England’s Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underworld and a senior critic on The Wire.

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