Stephen O Donnell’s debut novel Paradise Road is a coming of age tale about a young footballer whose dream falls apart and takes a different path. It’s a classic tale of disappointment and redemption.
Like a green and white Pack Men the story runs parallel between the individual, Kevin McGarry, and the institutions and culture of football being corrupted by big money, bigotry and bad media. It unfolds to become a story sang from the pubs of the Dumbarton Road and the terraces of Parkhead and Ibrox. Paradise Road unravels like a dream sequence. The past thirty years, from the moustaches of Lech Walesa and Graeme Souness to Aidean McGeady and the Hearts crisis, are narrated in fine detail and in a voice that rings true and clear.
From Parkhead and Paul McStay to the anti-capitalist protests in Prague during the IMF and World Bank summit in September 2000, O’Donnell charts the passing of an era as money floods into Scottish game then crashes out in empty failure . From the Black Bloc to the Green Brigade.
This is a spectacular debut novel packed with social insight but all captured in real-world dialogue that flows superbly. More Barr’s Irn-Bru than Sartre’s Iron in the Soul this is a story awash with sex and sectarianism but which manages to convey the dashed hopes and dreams of a generation through the central character but with still enough hope in the air to keep the reader engaged.