The author Frankie Gaffney lived in Dublin’s North Inner City from the age of twelve. His father also spent time in prison and Frankie Gaffney was familiar with the city’s dark world of drug dealing and crime. This makes him uniquely placed to write about the criminal world. However, this is a work of fiction, and the author has stated publicly that it is not autobiographical. Gaffney studied English Literature at Trinity College Dublin and was awarded the Ushher Fellowship to conduct literary research there.
Dublin Seven is the story of Shane, an 18 year old, who becomes a small time cocaine dealer in Dublin. As personal drug use turns to dealing, before long Shane is making at least a grand a week. As his client list grows, so does his confidence and his recklessness. Between meeting ‘mots,’ keeping his dad off his back, dealing with his clients, and keeping fellow criminals at bay, Shane’s life swings between fear and paranoia and elation and euphoria. As his hunger for power grows, so his life becomes increasingly complicated, and he becomes embroiled in a dangerous world of drugs and gangland feuds.
As the story begins, Shane hopes to go to college and drugs only feature for his own personal use. However when he meets Griffo on a night out, he asks how to get his hands on more ‘gear,’ and so begins his journey into the world of crime. He drops out of college, not even attempting to make it work, and increases his client list until he is able to move into an apartment with his mate ‘Chops,’ and so get out from under the watchful eye of his overly strict father, and his caring and soft hearted mother.
On a night out he meets Elizabeth, a hairdresser, and the two soon become an item. A tempestuous relationship ensues, especially when Shane discovers that Elizabeth used to be involved with a dangerous thug known as Paddy Lawless. Like his addiction to drugs he cannot be without her, and so, despite ongoing rows, they always return to each other.
During one particular incident, Shane and his ‘new’ friend Robbie Boyle (a dangerous and lethal criminal himself) go into the toilet to indulge in some coke. Shane spots a guy who tried to rob him one night. He tells Robbie, who beats the guy so severely he is left for dead. Although somewhat shocked, Shane seems to take it all in his stride and this is where I had a slight problem with this book.
Shane seems to worry more about not receiving text messages from his girlfriend after a row, than he cares about the fact that there may be a bounty on his head (for various misdemeanours such as the beating up of that young fella, or just being a drug dealer in the wrong place at the wrong time). He is stopped by the guards, but carries on his merry way without a second thought, despite having cocaine on him. This is obviously the author’s intention, to make him seem carefree, but I found this a bit hard to believe in, given his paranoia and fear at other times.
I did however feel the character of Shane was well portrayed in all his weakness. Gaffney shows how he veers between just wanting the simple things in life, like his girlfriend Elizabeth and cuddles on the sofa, to his increasingly desperate need for more power. We are told about Shane: “the only prospect of security that he could imagine was being feared.”
This is where Shane’s sheer delusion is obvious. He believes that being feared will bring him security, not seeing the obvious danger in becoming further embroiled in the criminal world, and this is his inevitable downfall. Shane contemplates death a lot. He thinks about how his dear granddad died from cancer, how Robbie Boyle was shot dead and how his friend Chalkie died, from a heart attack caused by overuse of cocaine. He paradoxically ruminates on his own mortality, and yet at the same times sees himself as invincible.
There were many aspects of this novel I found hard to believe, (although perhaps these things do happen and I am just naïve) such as Shane’s dad having a group of men kidnap him, and take him up the Dublin Mountains to put the fear of God into him. This was supposed to make him stop taking drugs? Shane copped on so quickly as to who was behind the kidnapping, which I found a bit too convenient. In saying that, the description of Shane’s fear during this incident is superb.
I was slightly frustrated by the ending. I won’t give it away, but I was left feeling slightly short changed, wanting to know more about what happened and why.
On the positive side, the language is brilliantly authentic and fizzes with rich descriptions such as this one of Griffo: “the tense desperation of a hunted animal made revolting by his efforts to conceal it.”
The story is fast paced and engaging, and the characters, although flawed, are interesting and richly portrayed in all their human failings.
If anything, this story left me wanting to know more. I wanted to know more about the effects of drugs, both on Shane’s mental state and on his relationships. It was clear Shane began to get increasingly short tempered and paranoid, but how much worse would it have become? I felt the complexities of drug taking and how it affects both the individual and those around them, were only dealt with superficially. Perhaps it would have been to the detriment of the story, but somehow I was left like Shane, always wanting more.