Sent to me by Granta Books in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 25/01/18
Publisher: Granta Books
Format: Paperback, 368pp
Summed up in a word: Folklore
The synopsis for The Earlie King & The Kid In Yellow gave literally nothing away but was so deliciously cryptic that I had to give the novel a go. I am seriously glad I did as TEK&TKIY was a remarkable read that was part love story, part mythological tale and part revenge plot. This isn’t your straight-forward read, the narrative is chopped up into different styles and perspectives and at first I thought it was going to be too nonsensical to be enjoyable but I quickly caught on and ended up engrossed within its many tales. If you like a familiar story with a unique style then TEK&TKIY is definitely your jam. A fantastic debut that is described as a ‘gangsta ballad love story’ which I think is a pretty good description. Full review below.
Ireland is flooded, derelict. It never stops raining. The Kid in Yellow has stolen the babba from the Earlie King. Why? Something to do with the King’s daughter, and a talking statue, something godawful. And from every wall the King’s Eye watches. And yet the city is full of hearts-defiant-sprayed in yellow, the mark of the Kid.
It cannot end well. Can it? Follow the Kid, hear the tale. Roll up! Roll up!
‘Every culture has its myths and Ireland was no different. They say that she was won over from the Tuatha De Danaan by the warrior poet Amhairgin. Sent out over the nine waves, Amhairgin invoked the whole country with a poem. He was the seawave, and that was the start of Ireland.
During the beginning of TEK&TKIY I was concerned that the narrative was a tad too nonsensical and absurd for my liking. It is rather an unusual writing style but I quickly settled into the story and its many dimensions and I am seriously glad I stuck with it as this novel is a remarkable debut for Danny Denton. This is fundamentally both love story and an unusual insight into gang culture. It is also a nightmarish mythological tale about The Earlie King and his tyrannical reign over a decrepit and weather-beaten Dublin, Ireland.
Within these pages is an expose about happened between The Earlie King & The Kid In Yellow. How the King and his Earlie Boys had an unrelenting grip on an unreal city, filled with poverty, drugs and dilapidated buildings, where they were feared and the police just stood by and watched, but all it took was one boy and a baby to bring them to their knees. The narrative is split into several arcs that paints a vivid picture of the tremulous events that took place between an unstoppable force and a boy who made a promise to his true love. I had a hard time putting this down after it sunk its claws deep into my psyche.
The main portion of the story is told between a journalist called O’Casey, who is looking into The Kid In Yellow’s story and the endless crime surrounding the Earlie Boys, and The Kid In Yellow himself and his shaky truce with the King. The King’s daughter died in childbirth and TKIY is the father of the child. Both men made promises to the daughter before her death. TKIY honours his promise to his love and in doing so all hell breaks loose. It is a familiar style story, forbidden love and gang culture, but it is Denton’s satisfying delivery of the plot and the many additional narrative styles that he included that made this novel special.
Told from many different perspectives and in several vastly different formats, Denton reveals an Ireland that is rough, depleted, riddled with gangs (as well as violence) and flooded from the constant rain. The reader follows several drastically different narrative styles from the The Kid In Yellow’s grief stricken and chaotic decision to steal his daughter back from the clutches of The Earlie King to O’Casey’s big expose on the Earlie gang and their violent grip on the city. Both plot lines follow the kid’s journey but O’Casey is there to work out the kid’s motives, the how and the why which is very helpful with a tale as unusual as this.
Some of the plot is also divulged through a scripted play that features The Earlie King, his gang members, a masked vigilante called Saint Vincent and an other worldly presence called Mr Violence who is a kind of puppeteer working in the shadows. A splendidly alternative style to the others which adds more tension to proceedings. There is also straight-forward and insightful sections from policeman Fran Ward perspective who is following the chain of events, always one step behind. I know it sounds like a lot to process but it totally works and each direction the novel goes in adds a new angle to the turmoil ravaging Ireland and the battle for power, understanding and sanctuary.
I loved this novel as it is just so cool; the imagery is creative and anarchic while also being genuinely moving at the same time. It does deal with plenty of difficult themes like teenage parenthood, gang violence and seeking redemption through religion or force. But it is also a deeply beautiful piece about a man (or boy in this case) doing right by the one he loves. The Kid In Yellow has to navigate a labyrinth of chaos to achieve his plans and it is populated by a selection of memorable, courageous and fearsome characters that had me in constant awe. Especially Mister Violence and Saint Vincent who aren’t included in the story very much but have an exceptional presence in the novel ramping up the fear and unpredictability.
My favourite character is by far The Kid In Yellow. His bravado and the devastation he leaves in his wake is amazing. He also kind of revives my faith in humanity’s youth. For the TKIY to lose so much but still remain fatherly and focused was special to witness (even if it is just fiction). TKIY fears the Earlie King but not as much as not keeping a promise to his beloved. Their haunting interactions fleshed out TKIY’s reason for taking on a supposedly un-defeated kingpin.
Denton’s writing is certainly unique. It is rough and gritty but also lyrical and poetic. There is also this unforgettable mythological/folklore aesthetic that adds a whole extra dimension of depth to the reading experience. The distinctively different world that this story occupies is odd at first, with it’s unique dialogue and irregular perspective, the plot did make for a challenging read but it agreed with me really well. I have to say that I think there is probably a bit too much going on in this novel but I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I liked the short and punchy chapters. A couple of pages here and there of each plotline was enough to create a cascading and vivid stream of narrative. The pacing was spot on and Denton developed the story well enough that I never caught myself wondering when it was going to pick up or move on. I was captivated by TKIY’s journey and the threats he faces. The Earlie King is a formidable enemy with a past that is more legend than real.
‘The stranger had become the king of the province now – that was the way it worked – and this drew different types of people to him. But what is said is that while people came to the Earlie King at his hotel room with offers of business or work, of payment for protection from gangs, of family and marriage, it always felt when he decided to deal with them that he was taking what he wanted. Everything was on his own terms. You wonder whether it was all intentional, from that first insult from that first trader. Whether everything that happened, happened by the sheer dint of his will. This is what a god does. Or a daemon.’
I could tell that DD was passionate about the novel and was drawing from many different inspirations. There is an obvious Romeo & Juliet vibe but it is displaced, already warped by prejudices and death and this is a story of a grieving individual taking the situation into his own hands despite the obvious danger. The narrative is admirable and the main characters are few but well thought out. I do think this might be too much for some readers as it does chop and change quite a lot but I think that worked in DD’s favour. The constant change in pace, tone and view made for a more mystic and enigmatic narrative. Jumping from poetic prose and haunted dialogue to a straight up evil stage play gave this book a quality that I don’t think DD could have achieved with just a straight forward story.
Overall I do recommend this to all calibres of reader. There is plenty of aspects included in TEK&TKIY that will appeal to different styles of reader but the fundamental love/danger story that is explored within is hard not to get sucked into. I was with The Kid In Yellow all the way through and I found his quest brave and admirable. I am so curious to see where Danny Denton is going to take his writing next! I hope he keeps on this path of beautiful mayhem that he has created for himself.
About Danny Denton
Danny Denton is a writer from Cork, Ireland. He has been awarded several bursaries and scholarships for his work, and has published work in various journals. The Earlie King & The Kid In Yellow is his first novel.