THE DEVIL I KNOW by Claire Kilroy, Book Review

Claire Kilroy is a prodigious, award-winning young talent in Irish fiction, whose fresh, authoritative voice has garnered enthusiastic praise. In The Devil I Know, she delivers a delicious novel, a cautionary tale of financial excess set during the Irish property bubble. Read my review.
The Devil I Know Claire Kilroy

The Devil I Know Synopsis

Tristram St. Lawrence has not been home for years—ever since he missed his mother’s deathbed in favor of going on a bender, the thirteenth Earl of Howth is not welcome in the family castle. Now sober, he lives an itinerant life in self-imposed exile, and his main confidant is his sponsor, a mysterious businessman who Tristram knows only as M. Deauville.

One day, when his plane is unexpectedly diverted to Dublin, Tristram ends up where he started, and an old acquaintance, a bully from his school days who’s now making a name in construction, pitches to Tristram an ambitious and expensive development project. The trouble is, M. Deauville thinks it’s a good idea, and before Tristram knows it he’s settled in Howth under his father’s baleful gaze and is up to his neck in funding proposals, zoning approvals, and the personal life of his business partner.

A wry and timely skewering of a country, a man, and an entire international financial system descended into madness, The Devil I Know establishes Claire Kilroy as a vigorous and wonderful new talent. (Grove Atlantic)

Genre: Literature, Thriller, Mystery, Drama, Humour

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The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy is such a clever novel, but not in a pompous way. In fact, its unassuming delivery will put even the most astute readers in a trance that will obscure its true genius right until the very end — not unlike the way the sheer stupidity and recklessness of those involved in the Irish property development boom only became clear after the global financial collapse.

Told in reflection, by a very candid and ‘very Irish’ Tristram St Lawrence, who is standing in the docks at some future-dated hearing, this tale had me enthralled from the very first page. What happened? What part did he play in the event being investigated?

By ‘very Irish’ I mean self-deprecating and irreverent. Many of the tangents Tristam takes the hearing down are laugh-out-loud funny, but there is ever-present darkness and sense of suffering.

On his business partner,

Hickey drove as a dog might, with some part of his anatomy – his elbow or sometimes his head – shoved out the window…

‘Now,’ he said as we pulled away. ‘I’ve had a better idea.’ I smiled. There were some things you could always count on. Not that Hickey would have a better idea, but that he would think that the idea was a better one. The recent history of this country has been moulded by those without the vision to perceive the flaws in their plans.

On his sponsor,

Once I started talking to Monsieur Deauville, I found I couldn’t stop. It all came pouring out. I bared my soul to the man, revealed its shrivelled dimensions, allowed him to gauge its clotted heft, or what was left of it. He appeared genuinely concerned for its fate, wretch slab of offal that it was, as pitted and honeycombed as a consumptive lung. He accepted the sorry state of it and did not condemn me, but instead listened patiently as I droned on. I owed him my life. It was as simple as that. I cannot overstate the degree of my indebtedness. Without M. Deauville, I would be long in my grave. Of that there is no doubt.

On a regulator,

A bead of sweat rolled down the Minister’s face and landed with a splat on the drawings, followed by another. Ray was raining. He had begun to drizzle. The wet rage was retrieved from his pocket and swabbed once more across his brow. ‘Roastin in here,’ Hickey offered to cover up the man’s embarrassment, not understanding that Lawless felt none. ‘Take off your coat,’ I suggested, but when did anybody ever listen to me?

And his birthplace, Ireland,

Only in Ireland would the acreage flanking a white sand beach be zoned industrial use.

These are just a very small selection of the countless passages in The Devil I Know I highlighted while reading – the mark of an author with a real gift for writing engaging and meaningful prose.

And if these snippets don’t pique your interest, just trust me — they are much better in context. At times, verging on the surreal, you can almost hear the mischievous little green leprechauns* up to no good, dancing around their pots of gold…

A powerful cautionary tale of the extremes to which humans will delude themselves, The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy is one of the most cuttingly satirical and intelligent works of fiction I have read in years. A must read.

Kilroy’s back catalogue has now been added to my wishlist.

* No leprechauns actually feature in this book.

BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

Get your copy of The Devil I Know from:

Amazon Book Depository Booktopia AU

About the Author, Claire Kilroy

Claire Kilroy is the award-winning author of three previous novels: All SummerTenderwire , and All Names Have Been Changed. Educated at Trinity College, she lives in Dublin.

Other reviews of The Devil I Know

The Guardian; The Independent; Asylum, KirkusReviews

** My receiving an ebook copy of this title from Grove Atlantic for review purposes in no way hindered the expression of my honest opinions in the above.