The title, Bad Day in Black Rock is an interesting allusion to the Spencer Tracy film Bad Day at Blackrock, made in 1955. It’s not the first remaindered Irish novel that I’ve picked up at my favourite bookshop, and they’ve generally been pretty good:
This one didn’t disappoint either.
Blackrock is a suburb of Dublin, and this is a tale of Dublin youth, with links to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, or the film Cruel Intentions. It’s set in a privileged world of wealthy students and deals with tragic consequences affecting lives that normally would have been smooth and trouble free. The characters’ dress and behaviour would transfer lock stock and barrel to some LA or New England suburb, so pervasive is the American culture among the young portrayed here.
The first person narrator has a blinkered and narrow understanding of the events, and the book is ostensibly their attempt to come to terms with them. This puts us right there at the heart of the mystery. The story is told in a brutally simple tone, factual and to the point.
We are shown the life of the privileged middle classes in Dublin, and they are criticised explicitly by the narrator – the featherbedding, the old boys’ handshake, the little corruptions of everyday life. These are all interesting characters and we can sympathise with their plight, and understand their points of view: the school’s rugby hero, the drunken nights out, the priest who would like to protect his young proteges, the parents with their conflicting needs – either to discover the truth or protect their children.
It’s a pretty hard hitting novel – though to call it raw and passionate, as the blurb does, is a little odd – there is passion, but the narrator has qualities of reserve like Nick in The Great Gatsby which mean that the reader is always a little distanced from the novel and the intense feelings of the characters.