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Brouhaha by Ardal O’Hanlon review – what’s the story? | Fiction

Jthe first novel by actor and comedian Ardal O’Hanlon, 1998 the talk about the city, hinted at the emergence of a distinctive literary talent, equal parts Flann O’Brien and Irvine Welsh. Its sequel took nearly a quarter of a century to appear, and sadly the boldness of its original debut was replaced by a jarring mix of whimsy and brutality. O’Hanlon’s editor would no doubt like him to be compared to Paul Murray and Colin Bateman, but Hubbub would probably never have been published without O’Hanlon’s status.

The book is set in Tullyanna (“a small border town populated by only three thousand pinched, secretive faces”), a poverty-riddled hellhole that harbors the usual cliches: a retired detective trying to do the right thing, a journalist frustrated and the usual cast of tough men-turned-politicians, the lucky few who escaped small-town boredom and the many who never had a chance. (There are, of course, references to Springsteen to drive this point home; this is no subtle book.) All are brought together by the apparent suicide of street performer “Dove” Connolly, whose death appears to be linked to the disappearance of Sandra Mohan, last seen ten years earlier.

The novel’s biggest flaw is that O’Hanlon seems unsure of the story he wants to tell. He’s not an untalented writer and can come up with a neat sentence and amusing dialogue – I enjoyed the detective’s heartfelt complaint “What normal person could function without a decent set of illusions?” – but Hubbub careers between state-of-the-nation metaphor, dark comic thriller, and half-baked mystery, never agreeing on a cohesive tone. If O’Hanlon writes another novel, it would be well advised to return to the atmosphere of the talk about the city and to treat this disappointing book as an aberration.

Hubbub by Ardal O’Hanlon is published by HarperCollins (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson