"The best novel about Dublin since Joyce… Hano’s initiation into sleazy Dublin nightlife and Shay’s fall from grace is conveyed with a compelling, even reckless, intensity.." - Irish Independent

"Joyce, O’Flaherty, Brian Moore, John McGahern, a fistful of O’Brien’s. This is a succulent Who’s Who of Irish Writing, and Dermot Bolger is of the same ilk…an exceptional literary gift."  - Independent

"A film-noir of a book, with a double murder at its core... excitingly and absorbingly told." - Sunday Times

"All 1990s life is there -- drink, drugs, political corruption -- all the words which have been repeated so often now that they have lost their power to shock. Here, they shock."  - Irish Times

“Another major Dublin writer is Dermot Bolger. His vision of the city is ragingly incandescent, an inferno more nightmarish than anything imagined by Beckett. He has been described as Dublin’s Pasolini by the poet Paul Durcan – no mean chronicler of modern Dublin himself – and truly his work exerts a cinematic grip. His novel “The Journey Home” is devastatingly forceful, set in Dublin scarred by unemployment in the 1980s, a place where you were more likely to run into a heroin dealer than a litterateur. In some senses Bolger is to contemporary Dublin what Dickens was to Victorian London: archivist, reporter, sometimes-infuriated lover. Certainly no understanding of Ireland’s capital at the close of the twentieth century is complete without an acquaintance with his magnificent writing.” - Books Quarterly

ISBN NO: 0007154119


The Journey Home was originally published by Penguin and later re-issued by Flamingo/HarperCollins. Eighteen years after its publication, it was published in the United States of America by The University of Texas Press and received the lead front cover review on the New York Times Book Review section.  

It was published in French as La Ville des Tenebres (Presses Da La Renaissance and 10/18), in Swedish as Vagen Hem (Albert Bonniers Forlag), in German as Journey Home (Hitzeroth) and in Italian as Verso Casa (Fazi Editore). All other rights are available.



To read the New York Times review click here:


New Dubliners

Published New York Times Book Review: April 20, 2008

"We came from nowhere and found we belonged nowhere else," says Francis Hanrahan, the troubled young hero of Dermot Bolger's fiercely beautiful novel "The Journey Home." The nowhere he's referring to is the Dublin suburb he reluctantly, often bitterly, calls home. Francis - who occasionally goes by "Francy," more frequently by "Hano" - lives there sometimes with his parents and sometimes with his rakish pal, Shay, who likes to refer to the youth of this grim town as "the children of limbo." Nowhere? Limbo? What ever happened to the Old Sod, the homeland cherished in the romantic imaginations of Irish emigrants to the United States, England, the Continent, wherever in the world they go? Is it nowhere John Wayne comes back to in "The Quiet Man," for pity's sake?

That Ireland, perennially emerald green in the mists of memory, is dead and gone, Dermot Bolger wants us to know. This is news no Irish-American is keen to hear, which might explain (not justify) why this book has had such a long passage across the Atlantic: it appeared in Britain in 1990 and is reaching us only now, in a university-press edition. It is one of the few Bolger novels - he has written more than half a dozen, as well as poetry and many plays - in print in the United States, and that's a crying shame.

In a way, the difficulty Bolger has had finding an American audience may be related to the big problem bedeviling the young suburban Dubliners of "The Journey Home": they can't get a grip on what it means to be Irish anymore, can't decide if they even want to be and don't understand why their lack of a clear national identity should leave them feeling so hollow and so desperate. "Well, it was all drummed into me subtly," Hano realizes when he's out in the kind of countryside his father grew up in. "Places like
this were meant to be more Irish than the streets I was born in."

And that's what eats at Hano and Shay and Katie, the unhappy stoner girl who becomes their friend: not that the old, rural Ireland of their ancestors has vanished, but that the images of it, as some lost paradise, have not. These kids, who are supposed to embody the future ("We are the young Europeans they keep telling us"), are afflicted with yearnings for times before they were born and places they've never seen, a free-floating nostalgia that seems as indelible as original sin and as general as the snow over Ireland in "The Dead."

This condition isn't easy to account for, because the old ways were constricting, and these young Irish - Hano is in his late teens, Shay is 21 and Katie just 16 - have freedoms their elders never enjoyed, or at least the illusion of them, the apparently wider range of choices that comes from not being bound to the land. In "The Journey Home," though, these new options add up to something less than the vibrant, productive, intensely satisfying young-European life the politicians and businessmen promise. Instead of toiling at backbreaking agrarian tasks, Hano and Shay can earn their keep in deadening, repetitive office jobs. Their opportunities for overseas employment are no longer limited to England and America; there are many, many more countries eager to exploit their labor. (Shay tries Germany and the Netherlands and returns "defeated and sullen.") And, of course, sex is more readily available for them, and drugs their mothers and fathers never dreamed of, to liven the nights that follow the bad, dull days.

It's in this context that the idea of home becomes a kind of obsession for all the young characters in the novel, which honors their baffled, sheepish restlessness by sharing it fully and by turning it into a vision that, in the end, transcends simple anomie. "The Journey Home" is itself a restless thing, jittery, impatient, insistent, and constructed with a willful circularity that creates its own suspense: you can feel Bolger groping his way to someplace he saw once long ago, or maybe only heard of, and isn't sure he'd recognize again.

The story begins in medias res, with Shay dead and Hano and Katie on the run after an unspecified but obviously grave crime. From there, the narrative moves forward and backward, on three distinct tracks: the story of the couple's flight through Ireland, told in the third person and covering four days and nights; brief, italicized passages, sometimes in verse, in which Shay's ghost addresses Katie; and Hano's first-person account of his life till then, which brings him, finally, to the awful events that made him a fugitive.

Those events are largely triggered by his growing sense that there's no core to him, nothing essential inside to keep him safe (or safe enough) from the brutalities of fortune. He thinks of his father "sitting in some Kerry bar in his youth while his friends debated which boat to take" and later "managing always to return from each English factory, digging in, clinging to his vision of home." After his father's death he begins to understand why the old man had to cling to that vision in the Dublin suburbs as well, working for a ruthless man named Pascal Plunkett, whose terrible family controls the town. Hano and Shay wind up under the Plunketts' thumb too, and find, to their dismay, that irreverence and youthful insouciance are poor weapons against blind power - that something more substantial might be needed. But they don't have much of an arsenal to equip them: just the old idea of home.

"The Journey Home" seems, at times, like an Irish "Rebel Without a Cause": it is, like that 1955 James Dean film, the coming-of-age story of young people who seem to veer helplessly between wanting everything to change - now - and wanting everything to stay the same forever. Bolger conveys that painful ambivalence vividly, with his urgent prose and his obsessive, endlessly circling narrative structure and his persistent, dronelike repetition of that single tantalizing word "home." (It must appear hundreds of times in the novel, and is, inevitably, the last word.)

This is a mournful book, but not a glum one, really: the writer's love of his agonized characters and his unsettled homeland is unmistakable, and redemptive. There is, as the young know and the old are prone to forget, a weird exhilaration about going all the way, even if where you find yourself is a little scary. "The Journey Home" does go all the way, and then some, ending with a bracingly cynical vision of the country's possible future as a quaint Old Sod theme park for Europeans, the Ireland of myth and memory bodied forth in hideous, self-parodic reality.

Talk about rough beasts: even the Duke might cower at the sight of that one slouching toward him. Wherever the "real" Ireland is or was or will be, there are great chunks of it, with the smell and texture of Irish earth, in Dermot Bolger's rich, conflicted, ferociously vital book. This is a novel full of rage and full of melancholy and full, to overflowing, of home truths.

Terrence Rafferty is a regular contributor to the Book Review.


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