My review of Karl Parkinson’s The Blocks, which appeared in the Irish Times of October 1st 2016.
(Might be a pay-to-view page for some.)
Dublin being a small place, I’d heard through the grapevine that a spoken-word poet called Karl Parkinson was writing a novel set in inner city Dublin. It remained in the back of my mind as something I’d like to read, as debut novels from working class Dubs were so rare as to be almost non-existent. But when I heard that the storyline is about a visionary poet/artist, and it’s strongly influenced by the works of William Blake, I knew I had to read it. It sounded like something very out of the ordinary.
I’ve been a follower of William Blake since my teens. I have a fond memory of going to the Tate Gallery when I worked in London, and looking for the Blake drawings and watercolours. I asked a member of staff – or perhaps it’s more likely a member of staff asked me what I was looking for – and was told that they had been housed separately for restoration work. “I can let you in to view them,” he offered, very unexpectedly. He opened the door to a storage room, showed me the cabinets, and left me to look at them. I was made to feel like a visiting scholar. At that time, sometimes when I was on the Tube home from work, people would get up from the seat beside me and move to a vacant one somewhere else.
I had no expectations of Karl Parkinson’s novel, because I couldn’t begin to imagine what a novel about a visionary in a Dublin corporation block might be like. But it didn’t disappoint; in fact it was the best novel I read that year, as well as being easily the most unusual.