Monday, 15 September 2014

A Wee Review -- SINKER by Jason Johnson

The Irish News published my review of SINKER in yesterday's edition (11/09/14), in a slightly shorter form. Here's the full version of the review for anybody who missed it:

Sinker is the novel that will remind you of the silly things you’ve done when drunk, or avoided by abstaining. Because that’s what this novel is about. Getting wasted. Except in Sinker’s world, getting wasted isn’t always a waste of time. Jason Johnson has created a sport called sink – there’s even a Wikipedia-type section at the start that covers the rules and public perception – and to tell the story, Johnson employs professional sinker Baker Forley, Derry’s great ginger hope in the so-called sport, and the new kid on the block in the world circuit.

The plot is straightforward enough, but is stuffed with more surprises than you’ll find in an end-of-session kebab. Forley is supposed to drink, drink, drink; stay upright and keep his eye on the ball. He certainly shouldn’t waste time looking at a rich sheikh’s wife during his big shot at the world title in Mallorca. But of course he does look at a rich sheikh’s wife. Ogles her, in fact. And everything goes crazy, in a good, old fashioned, “wait ‘til ye hear what happened!” sort of way.

There is a sense of enthusiasm about this book that is contradictory to the lack of enthusiasm displayed by the enigmatic Baker Forley. It may be the comedic aspect of it, because Johnson’s humour, though blacker than a well settled Guinness, is laugh out loud funny in places. That’s actual laughter out loud, not internet-lol; two very different things. Or possibly the enthusiasm is channelled through the larger than life supporting cast. Ratface the sink talent manager, Nap the jolly and deadly bodyguard, and Sheikh Alam who lives in a Gaudi designed house with a Dali designed garden. Yeah. That much larger than life. And there’s a twist of femme fatale in there too. Either way, a character that responds to a death threat with the immortal words, “Aye, right,” is hardly the most dramatic.

But then, maybe that’s the point. Perhaps the only way Johnson can imagine a person succeeding in a sport that literally kills you physically and mentally has to have his head in the right – or wrong – place.

Is Forley a two-dimensional lump of drunk or is he actually a zen master? The line, delivered by Forley as narrator, “If it’s not competition, it can only be addiction,” when describing the motivations of a wannabe sinker, points to the latter lifestyle choice. And these nuggets of drinker’s wisdom are scattered throughout the text. There is a depth of understanding displayed not only of the chaos of alcohol, with more emphasis put on the downside of the drug rather than the upside, that is coupled with the ups and downs of abstinence. Interestingly, Forley only drinks when competing. He’s not a social drinker. This creates a madcap balancing act that lends the novel a point of interest to drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Look down your nose at the antics of Forley and his fellow sinkers or grin as you remember past embarrassments or moments of messy glory; whatever works. But Sinker deserves to be read.

Gerard Brennan

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