The Promise Maker

BY Eoin Meegan

The Secret Life of Ashley Brown was the first book by new Irish writer George Fitzgerald, which was widely acclaimed on its release. Now the sequel ‘The Promise Maker’ is here.

‘Ashley Brown’, for those of you who haven’t read the first book, deals with the subject of drug abuse and coming of age. It follows the life of a young Dublin woman who makes it big in the printing world in London. 

The Promise Maker begins where ‘Ashley Brown’ left off with Ashley returning to Ireland to attend a funeral. However, after about 30 pages the book changes tack and goes in a whole new direction with a new narrator.

Starting off with Ashley’s voice, only to switch to Frankie Smith, who proceeds to tell his story, and returning to Ashley in the book’s closing pages can be a little unnerving. Ashley’s narrative has a light, chatty feel, however Frankie’s story takes a darker turn. This change is somewhat abrupt and depending on whether you liked Ashley or not, will either please or disappoint.  

Frankie’s life is one of unremitting misery and hardship. Born in New York to an Irish dad and an American mum, the family move to Dublin (we’re not told why) when he is still a boy and take up residence near the Five Lamps in Dublin’s inner city.

His father is an alcoholic and subject to bouts of extreme violence. His mother seems to harbour some dark secret. The book is populated with a raft of villainous characters such as Buster, Whacker, Slasher, and the enigmatic ‘Madam’ Daisy-Mae.

This book is not for the faint-hearted, it is not a fluffy story of Dublin in the ‘rare aul times’, with a few ‘baddies’ thrown in to give it colour. This is an uncompromising journey into the heart of darkness that was Dublin in the early 20th century. Full of nastiness and murder, oppressive at times, it manages to convey the feeling of raw truth.

It’s almost as if Fitzgerald lived through this period, so authentically does he manage to recreate the scenes and tell the people’s stories of the time. There are some nice people here too, such as Mr and Mrs Morgan, and the tragic Harry-boy, who is Frankie’s constant friend throughout his unhappy lifetime. Sometimes one gets shades of Peer Gynt, and in the character of Jenny, the love of Frankie’s life, there is more than a nod to Solveig. Ultimately I think Jenny’s character fails. Without giving away spoilers it just didn’t seem believable.

The book is a hard, uncompromising look at what poverty and a life devoid of hope, of salvation, even redemption can do to people, while at the same time showing the bravery and spirit of those who survive it.

The Promise Maker, The Secret Life of Ashley Brown, part two, while a complete novel in its own right, does hint at more to come. With Ashley as the pivotal character, heading up a publishing company, others naturally gravitate towards her with their own rich stories.

There’s enough material here for several books, and Daisy-Mae may be next. Expect to hear a lot more about this talented writer in the near future.

The Promise Maker is published by the author, and currently available in Bargain Books Abbey Street, and Christian Publication Centre, Abbey Street. It is also available on Amazon. Price €10.