Sunday 9 March 2008

A Wee Review - Woundlicker by Jason Johnson

It’s not often that I find a book containing the kind of violence that makes me cringe. Woundlicker is one of those rare finds. But it’s not all about the violence. Sure, it’s shocking, and the internal dialogue that the protagonist, Fletcher Fee, describes is disturbing, and the gritty-gritty descriptions of the urban decay in Fletcher’s neighbourhood force you to look at Belfast without the post-Troubles rose-tinted glasses. But this is a book that was born of political frustrations. The main message is tied to the mid-noughties. Surely things have moved on? We’ve got the Assembly now. Is this book still relevant to modern Northern Ireland? God, I hope not. I’m an optimist.

But apart from the bleak outlook on NI politics, and the uneasy feeling you get in your stomach when the violent wee git makes you go, “Get in there, my son!” there’s a lot to be said for the story Johnson tells and the way it’s written. And you can see why he was described as the “Irish Irvine Welsh” when Woundlicker first landed on the shelves.

Personally speaking, I found it hard to put down, and read it in a few short days. Fletcher Fee is a fascinating character, and how he relates his woes to the reader is expertly handled. I have no complaints on a nuts and bolts level of writing. I was hooked in from the first “confession” and felt satisfied with how the tale ended. Johnson resisted what must have been a bit of a temptation to make Fletcher Fee a real hero. It’s obvious the man (Fletcher, not Johnson) is a complete lunatic. And he’s not harmless. But you can identify with some of his insanity. Or maybe I just need help. Read it and let me know, will you?

Johnson went on to write another novel titled Alina, also published by Belfast house, Blackstaff Press. I intend to pick it up and hope to enjoy it as much as I did his debut novel. Although I’ve heard that the Eniskillen man has no immediate plans to put out a third book, I wish he would.

Gerard Brennan

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