Reviewing The Metal Mountain, by John Healy (Etruscan Books, 2019)



Thirty years on, new grass grows in John Healey’s arena,

Extended now, that scarred childhood is fiction infused to bridge time.

An exile’s experience expressed through a continued line of rejections,

Barred from scaling the prison wall to seek progress, here then is a new

Metal Mountain that Healy’s aspirant souls try to climb.


The Dochertys’ are the means with which we re-enter the fifties,

Which was a monochrome age, soon encumbered, before the sixties

Societal revolution was designed to begin.  Here are some of the struggles

John faced in order to assume place and status, as Boxer, Alcoholic, ‘Deserter’,

Prison Inmate, Tramp, King.  Healy has truly lived through much more


Than each or all his oppressors, and so the specifics within this new novel

Seem to mirror as well as become everything.  We experience the family strain

At the time of the Queen’s coronation, as with the missing of one payment

For the street party fee, trouble swells.  The Dochertys’ are expelled

And immediately lost to London, as streets warp around them, even the Camden


Roads they know well.  It is the next separation from home, that Healy of course

Duly echoed, and the sound of his footsteps, soon claimed by the cold can be heard

As the Dochertys seek sanctuary in an England that once held for Ireland

More than just horror, when misinformation and murder stained both hope

And doorway, when betraying the burden of first the social and then the Biblical word.

Exile  is all that the Docherys have open to them. Sean the husband,

The children, Michael and Dermot suffused; as if they drowned on dry land

Or had to fight their way to the surface, as their author did through strong waters

Of whisky and beer, all hope strewn. And yet the children grow and learn in the void

To which the sovereign state soon consigns them. Albie Adders, a prosperous neighbour,


Introduces the fledging boys to the ‘birds’. The odyssey starts, the rivers of memory

Moving both Author and reader through the triumphs to come, the deep hurts.

Rita Hayworth, Jean Simmons, these are the women they wait for, while their own

Mother struggles and their Da is half turned to the dark. The journey flows on

Through  Etruscan’s immaculately printed pages. The creamlike sheen of the bookface


Providing sly mirror to the story’s words and scar marks. Then, from women

To heroes it seems, as the shadows of war mar the pavements.

Fathers as soldiers and the betrayals of so called peace blur their eyes.

For what do fighters do when their souls, irrevocably changed are unwanted?

As the call to arms will hang limply when there is nothing left hands can prize.


As the father fades, the son sparks his way into trouble.  A child’s arrest.

Scrumping apples. These first misapprehensions soon attain poignancy.

Healy suffered for years on his quest for thirst and gain and this remarkable tale

Spares no detail. With his chess master’s precision, fate achieves fluency.

The prose style is rich but does not court attention.


It is a remarkable evocation of a time and place through the hand

That writes and types its old pain in order to make an active form

Of time travel as we return to a city that contains its own cause for ruin

That nobody now living in it can totally understand. This sense of confusion

Is seen through Michael’s navigation; being out of place and an exile


Because of who he is stains the blood. As his mother Mary Jane works

In a St Pancras Street Wash House, the sheets she strains are the tear ducts

Of the fate that now Healy states. As if each sheet were a page onto which

Suffering could be written, a soul stained, clouded mirror framing all the poor hate.

Their isolation. Their loss. Their lack of joy. The long journey.


As if whatever mountain lay waiting would never be theirs to ascend.

And yet the familial bind powers them, even through desperation;

As the test of love stays unspoken, it remains open to them with or without

Strife’s offence.  It is only when Mary’s sister Bridget arrives that a possible peak

Achieves focus. A beautiful immigrant, she’s a Hayworth, her own form


Of Ruby, albeit from the emerald isle. She will guide them, it appears

Through the affect she engenders. She has mystery, beauty, glamour,

And is an instant both totem and tonic, making all they have faced

Seem worthwhile. Her stillness and repose startle them. She is a God like gift

Granted to them.  An echo from their origins showing them a way through the slur;


Bridget will glide as the messy boys slid and stumbled. Her almost divine gaze,

Untroubled and resolute air shifts the mirk that has been left by bomb blast

And the black market’s slick tendrils. Bridget Kelly sees futures in which

Everyone can be served.  Michael and her form a bond as he accrues further

Trouble; accusations around the train station; she quickly becomes his defense.


‘Turn informer and all will be well for the English’ is one of her first revelations.

In a handful of pages what looked like period documentary becomes a tract

For injustice and a thriller that spikes life’s pretence. Bridget’s beauty is fuel.

Her innocence is a challenge. At a ruined time her clear reason and dare to the mist

Seems profound. As Michael roams through the streets, his inherited sense of


Displacement is quickly fired by the spirit his young Aunt controls

Through love’s sound. Michael finds the Metal Mountain of parts discarded and forged

From the ransacked and finds his own home and palace, his own metaphor.

As he scales its torn tiers and heights Bridget makes her way across London,

Locating its heart she will brace it, moving deeper still, to explore.


A political thriller begins as a beautiful seventeen year old girl charts the ugly,

Which bites back to smear her with everything dark in its grip. But she will not concede,

And it is her will that sustains her as it does Sean and Mary, love’s influence ,

Spreading, saving even tired feet from the slip. As the road breaks before you,

Remake the road and the journey. Camden Town becomes mythic in this irish


Odyssey, as if Bridget were Helen of Troy, commanding if not ships,

Then perception, as she represents Irish struggle from the leasing of rooms

To religion dictating those with faith’s modesty. As the English oppress

Her lush red hair becomes blackened.  She is delivered into a system

That seeks only it seems to corrupt, while the waste of industry stands


As a possible road to salvation, two young irish people

Fight English wars on train platforms and in smoke smeared rooms;

Love instructs. What we return to is love, if just for the self and no other.

John Healy’s dignity saved him from a seemingly endless line of defeats.

But in this new , crucial book, the grass arena is growing, not this time


For the homeless, but as a place for the hopeful, emerging through ruins

To make each personal world feel complete. The irish experience at this time

And in the decades hence was a horror. Akin to the jews and all others sundered

And split and oppressed.  Healy fuses his life to this book but this time through

Fiction; the fears and thoughts, observations that saw him run from the army


And into the bottle, are here seen and broken, littering the street like glass tears.

It was only after he’d drunk that he found the clarity Bridget essays.

Healy’s way with chess is her progress, his change of moves for words

We’ll hold dear.  For what seems simple at first becomes its own monument

To achievement.  The poetic emblem of rubbish and waste to a boy,


Casts an older girl in the gleam of a makeshift stance for  the future

Transforming the still resonant form of a novel into an almost musical

Joy.  This is a book all should prize. It mirrors our lives, which are metal,

But which can reflect the organic and the glorious goal we can seize.

John Healy returns. His is a life like no other.  And yet in transforming it,


 That base metal


And Captures

                                                           The ways and means

                                                                                                       Of the free.




                                                   David Erdos March 25th 2019


This entry was posted on in homepage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.