Charlie doesn't enjoy writing.

He has no patience with similes and, when it comes to descriptions, he'd rather get the point across in a drawing. He's also discovered that pasting in sections from the internet can count towards his thousand words a day. He's really only writing this book because his therapist thinks it will bring painful memories to the surface and help Charlie make sense of them.

Twenty-five years old, Charlie's known as "the gamal", an Irish word basically meaning "simpleton", in his village of Ballyronan in Cork. Officially, he's been diagnosed with something called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, based on repeated observations that he's a bugger to get along with. He's actually a lot smarter than his village idiot status would suggest: someone who has always preferred to observe and think instead of talking.

He's only ever had two real friends, Protestant incomer James and local Catholic girl Sinéad, who had stuck with him since primary school. They shared their love of music with Charlie, but their eventual fate is kept from us. All we know is that it involved a bridge, that Charlie has been suffering from post-traumatic stress ever since and that the writing of this book is as much a tribute to them as it is a means of therapy.

There's a chapter Charlie writes about a day when he, James and Sinéad skived off a sponsored walk and ran into the countryside instead. It's the best day he can remember ever having. But when he reads back over what he's done, he's dismayed by how little of that happiness comes across in his account of it. It's a "you had to be there" moment, but one that rings with genuine poignancy. Rather than feeling disappointment with Charlie's literary skill, we can empathise all the better with his frustration at not being able to do justice to the memory of the people he loved.

Ciaran Collins has created a highly individual voice for his hero in this stellar debut: one that has deeper feelings than he lets on to the outside world, but is funny and self-deprecating too, when he's trying his hardest not to sound like a writer.


Ciaran Collins

Bloomsbury, £12.99