Book Review - Lazy City

The journalist Rachel Connolly’s incisive debut novel conveys the quiet desperation of a generation facing economic instability and career uncertainty, compounded by the climate crisis. Erin returns home to Belfast after the death of her best friend, Kate. She suspends her degree and accepts a position as an au pair to avoid staying with her mother. At first she finds solace with her old friend Declan – an artist working as a barman – and former boyfriend Mikey, a junior doctor. Then she meets Matt, an American academic with impossibly white teeth. Over a few months, we follow Erin as she numbs herself with drink and drugs. We learn of the physical abuse she endured as a child and also how Kate died.

Lazy City is written in wry, sometimes repetitive prose, reflecting the level of Erin’s intoxication. The bar scenes are fun; each pub has its own ambience. We are given fleeting glimpses of other lives through various drunken encounters and “afters”. Connolly adds immediacy by writing dialogue in italics, tightly woven into the narration.

Belfast-born, Connolly offers a nuanced portrait of her home city: “a place which shows all its history, all its personality, all the time… it’s not just the recent history, the flags and religion and borders. It’s the mountains everywhere, too.” In one passage the view from a flat is described with a cinematic attention to detail: a giant glass window, “like something out of an aquarium” overlooks a convenience shop “half the lights on its sign out, Fuck IRA scum spray-painted in black on the red brick wall. Red, white and blue kerbstones and orange and purple flags down the road. An Ormeau Road flat pretending it’s a penthouse suite.”

The only constant in Erin’s life is her faith. She visits several churches, and reveals her grief and disconnection in prayer. Erin betrays, and is deceived by, the two men she sleeps with, and yet it is some measure of Connolly’s skill that we retain sympathy for her flawed, messy heroine.

Originally published by The Observer