No 330 Bad Day in Blackrock by Kevin Power #readingirelandmonth23

This is the worst thing that ever happened to us.

This is the only story I will ever be able to tell…

In the early hours of 31 August 2000, Brian Murphy, an 18-year-old student at UCD, was attacked by a large group of young men outside the Club Anabel nightclub at the upmarket Burlington Hotel in Dublin. He died shortly after the attack and three of his peers, all privately educated, rugby-playing young men from wealthy families stood trial for his murder. The ‘Club Anabel’ case drew great media interest, particularly since the families of boys on trial moved in the same circles as the judiciary and raised questions about how this group of young men, who seemingly had everything, could cause such devastation.

Kevin Power, who attended UCD at the same time as these boys, has taken this real-life case as the starting point for his debut novel Bad Day in Blackrock. He has re-worked many of the details and rather than take a journalistic approach, he uses fiction to create a space in which to present an eviscerating portrait of an elite young generation.

This is a story of the South Dublin establishment. These are the children of wealthy parents who have been enrolled in the right schools, play the right sports and date the right girls. Yet one night, it all goes wrong. Conor Harris, a young man who has recently broken up with his girlfriend Laura Haines, gets into an altercation with three of his schoolmates, the main one being Richard Culhane, who is now dating Laura. What happens next is a matter of much conjecture, but Conor is left for dead following a vicious beating.

Bang. Bang. Bang. One, two, three. A tidy progression from injury to unconsciousness to death. People seem to have found it difficult to conceive of something so irrevocable happening so quickly.

The narrator then interrogates the years that led up to the fateful night as he tries to understand what has gone so terribly wrong and what has left these privileged lives in tatters.

The structure of the novel is interesting insofar as it seems to reiterate the fact that there is no way of ever knowing what caused the death of Conor Harris. The narrator – unnamed – leads the story from a distance and never judges the actions of his peers. However, as the book goes on, questions arise. The narrator seems to have played no part in the events of the tragic evening yet has intimate details of incidents leading up to the crime. How can that be? Characters confide in him and he passes those confidences on to the reader, so how much can be trusted? When Power finally reveals who is telling this story, it is a reveal that is as dramatic as it is unexpected, and throws a new light over what has gone before.

He perfectly captures an atmosphere of languid boredom – almost numbness – among these young people. The boys all play rugby and view women with a streak of misogynistic disdain. The girls all wear Ugg boots, watch The O.C. and vomit up the slight meals they eat.  They all hate their parents, even though they would have nothing without them. Their lives are cosseted, free of financial worry and dulled of incident, bringing to mind the superficial world of Bret Easton Ellis’s LA kids. Everything is image and everything is underpinned by emptiness meaning that there are no stakes, until suddenly, there are, sending shock waves through the upper echelons of Dublin society.

Nobody knew what Conor had to die…there was no good reason for it…it was simply in the nature of the way these people lived. All we know is that he died. Anything else is a whistle in the dark.

As vivid as this milieu is in Bad Day in Blackrock, I found it hard to empathise with these characters, but then again, maybe I wasn’t supposed to. They have no inner life or depth of thought. What they have are lives that are mapped out for them – the same schools as their father, a similar wife to their mother and a job in whichever industry the family already has a stake. While that is constraining and leaves no room for individuality, it is still hard to feel sympathy for that kind of comfortable life trajectory.

Nevertheless, it is true that these boys were born into a life that had been sanded down, smoothed over…They had nothing to add to its completion. All they had to do was keep it going. I often wonder what effect this had on them – and on their generation.

Still, through spare, lean prose, Power subtly dissects a culture, which is at the very heart of Irish society. A culture, born from just a few square miles in one corner of the city, that has come to own the government, the judiciary and the banking system. He covers similar ground in his most recent novel White City, to much better effect in my opinion.

Bad Day in Blackrock has been successfully adapted for film by director Lenny Abrahamson as What Richard Did and is well worth a watch

Ireland Month Irish Literature

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

14 Comments Leave a comment

  1. The reveal about the narrator sounds intriguing, but everything else you describe about this book seems depressing to me. I’m curious to know what Power’s motive in making the privileged young people unsympathetic stems from. A tragic thing happens, but the suggestion seems to be that the perpetrators are so cosseted by their upbringing that there are no consequences for them and no sense that the tragedy is as much about how their upbringing has damaged them as it is about the senseless death of one of their number. Is that Power’s point, do you think? That people whose lives are mapped out for them and protected by the wealth and power of their parents are less deserving of sympathy?


  2. I’ve come across this title before and confused it with Bad Day at Black Rock, the classic Spencer Tracy film, so I suppose Power was vaguely referencing the movie while partly punning on the ‘black’ element in the placename Dublin. Like the film (which I’d love to watch again) this sounds compelling as a psychological study of sociopathy.


  3. Jan’s comment is the one I would like to have written. When you mentioned Bret Easton Ellis I thought the book might not be for me. It sounds as if you’re rooting for the film, anyway!


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