This is the Ritual
This collection of stories has been hotly anticipated following Rob Doyle’s 2014 debut novel Here are the Young Men, which was praised by Colm Tóibín among others for its “uncompromising tone”. In This is the Ritual, that tone is ceaseless, with Doyle’s relentless approach intensified and imagined anew through these torturous tales. Frequently the protagonists – often writers – have literary dreams (and nightmares), with some even forming their own filthy genres like “paltry realism” and “Paddy-slasher”. It is often difficult to discern whether Doyle’s characters’ are crippled by their relationship to writing or if this is, in fact, the only thing that prolongs their slipping sanities. Indeed, in ‘Paris Story’, jealousy of writerly success fuels and infinitely haunts the mental life of the central character. The feeling that these narratives echo and ricochet off of each other, coupled with their autobiographical resonance, heightens their ferocity and lasting power. While the physical geography of the book oscillates between various cities and isolated landscapes of Western Europe, it feels like these stories all exist in the same underworld, one that readers are rarely forced to acknowledge in any sustained sense.
The narrator of ‘The Turk Inside’ provides a model for how to approach this book as a whole: “I said I had to be somewhere (it makes you feel important, it’s never true, even when you think it is)”. This brief trio of rationales references the psychoanalytic ego, superego and id – yet these are presented in a throwaway social remark, and thus refuse the lifelessness of theoretical simplifications. That this comment is made by arguably the most despicable of individuals in the collection shows a core tenet of these fictions: painful experiences evoke painful insights. The lengthy ‘Outposts’ and ‘Final Email from P. Cranley’ conjure an unwelcome queasiness. The formal experimentations of these stories make the despairing content almost unbearable. This is the Ritual is shocking, but considering the common societal issues like drugs, mental health problems and harrowing sexual encounters omnipresent, we must ask ourselves: why are we so shocked?
Words: Peter Morgan