Review The Road To McCarthy By Pete

Review: The Road To McCarthy By Pete McCarthy Essay, Research Paper

Comic turn The Road to McCarthyby Pete McCarthy 432pp, Hodder After his rollicking romp around Ireland in the best-selling McCarthy’s Bar, Pete McCarthy has now set out on a roistering rollick around the globe. The Road to McCarthy is ostensibly a hunt for Irish McCarthys, all the way from Morocco, New York and Tasmania to Montana and Montserrat; but it reads less like a comic tour of the world than a tour of the world for the sake of being comic about it. Which, to be sure, the book frequently is. Wedged between rawly emotive mobile-phone users on a train, McCarthy ponders the unspoken agreement by which we are all unable to hear the other people bawling intimate details of their private lives a mere two inches from our ears. Under no circumstances, he reflects, must you acknowledge your existence by joining in with “She sounds like a right bitch”. He is wittily perceptive about Irish-Americans who sprawl around bars which play Irish republican hip-hop wearing T-shirts reading “Unrepentant Fenian Bastard”. Vacating a hotel room, he ritually scoops up the minor toiletries against the day when, down on his luck, he will open a market stall stacked with shower caps, sewing kits, aeroplane socks and blindfolds, and mint imperials nicked from Chinese restaurants. Even so, the book tries far too hard. Beneath its feckless Mickery lies a rather more compulsive drive to load every phrase with waggery. The Road to McCarthy is mercilessly, relentlessly funny, unable to look at a road sign or a plate of pancakes without draping it with a dutiful wisecrack. An airport trek to the luggage carousel is “so long and arduous it could have been sponsored to raise funds for mental health”; a Tasmanian Legs’n'Breasts Chicken shop cues a fantasy of a Tits’n'Ass Pie Shop; McCarthy isn’t ever alone, just “on his lonesome”. It is not that it isn’t witty, just too worked and wilful. This stand-up style is a pity, because McCarthy is an accomplished writer, snappy and shrewd, who simply won’t trust himself. It is not that he can’t write comedy, rather that he doesn’t yet know how to write without it. If his blend of fantasy, irreverence and self-mockery is typically Irish, so too is his use of humour as a defensive shield, the Celtic equivalent to English jolliness or the stiff upper lip. Self-mockery is as Irish as emigration, but its endearing openness can be deceptive. McCarthy’s comic persona – the bemused spectator pitched headlong among crazed Fenians, steak-guzzling Aussies and black Caribbeans with grandfathers from Cork – is really just as self-protective as his perky style. There are the odd touches of stage-Irishry: perhaps some Irishman really did rattle on to the author about “a bunch of feckin’ hoors! ‘Twas all brothels here, a bit of a party for the randy auld sailors”, but only, one suspects, because he was deep in the minor works of Brendan Behan. Few Irish people he encounters can speak without a regulation “Jaysus”, and McCarthy seems surprised by the comments of an acquaintance who pours scorn on Irish nationalist mythology. In sizeable sectors of Ireland today, you would be unlikely to be invited out to dinner unless you were known to do the same, let alone land a job teaching Irish history. The book regurgitates some stale, reach-me-down Irish history as though it’s all eye-opening stuff for the author. The trouble with the Irish is that they are, by and large, a humorous, hospitable people. This is a disaster for commentators like McCarthy, who find themselves inevitably accused of stereotyping simply for telling the truth. It is like bumping into an African who really does have a wonderful sense of rhythm. The Road to McCarthy doesn’t sentimentalise the Irish, a people who are notably unsentimental themselves. Nor does it idealise them. But its remorseless raciness, as it swings from the genuinely funny to the glibly facetious, colludes with a good many dubious Anglo-Saxon attitudes. However, the book is more topical than it imagines. McCarthy arrives in New York to find that Ken Livingstone has been there before him. Asked by a reporter to name his hobbies, Livingstone replies: “Drinking excessively”. Americans are not accustomed to that sort of irony, not least from their politicians. Or at least, one assumes it was ironic. · Terry Eagleton is the author of The Gatekeeper (Allen Lane)



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