Judge art, they say, in the context of the time in which it exists. You might not consider Ross O’Carroll Kelly – Paul Howard’s sharply exaggerated cliche of a rich, dumb, sex-loving South Dublin rugby nearly man – to be art, and that’s your perogative.
In ‘Braywatch’, though, he strikes the perfect tone for an escapist right now.
The latest novel, released last week, sees O’Carroll-Kelly take control of the coaching position at Pres Bray, and attempt to relive his Leinster schools rugby triumphs vicariously through the perennial Wicklow underdogs.
Of course, being a man who regularly lays his hands on thousands of Euros simply by calling his dad, O’Carroll-Kelly doesn’t really relate to the more middle-class surrounds of Bray, but brings his rugby tactics book to bear and slowly manages to make an impact.
Somehow, our anti-hero remains with – and unfaithful to – his long-suffering wife, Sorcha, and has acquired a surreal living situation alongside one of his former teammates, the father of his wife’s youngest baby. His daughter Honor, long the biggest brat of the entire series (including even Ross), has become obsessed with environmental issues, and his staggering offensive toddler triplets are the cause of lots of chaos. So far, so normal.
What makes ‘Braywatch’ particularly great in the context of Howard’s long-running character experiment, though, is how frivolous and yet ‘normal’ its settings appear in the context of our current corona-hit status.
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The text predates March, and there’s barely a scene in the book that could exist in our current scenario. Such ludicrous behaviour as Ross’ insistence on comparing his kid wearing glasses to his friend’s cancer, or his father’s Trumpian battle to actually acquire the role of Taoiseach after a dodgy election triumph, could only really play out in a Dublin that hasn’t really existed since early this year.
Which all makes this a beautiful casual throwback of a read, even if you’re not the type to frequent the Shelbourne and you happily understand a Finglas accent the first time you hear it. It’s full of overstated social takes, and many of us are now at the point of looking back at the best days of our own defunct social lifes with just as much exaggerated glory.
As for the series as a whole? We’d love to see Ross grow into old age disgracefully, somehow dodging the worst consequences of his behaviour along the way, especially as the character is so well-written that it’s hard to truly work out if his lack of self awareness, selfishness and deeply spoilt view on life actually make him a bad person, or just a fiercely misguided and unfaithful one who’s a little too stupid to understand fully how disgraceful he is.
Which leaves us with Ross trying to decipher words of more than 3 syllables, Sorcha trying to hold it all together and considering wearing the same outfit twice, and the sweary toddlers leaving a trail of destruction. Braywatch is exactly the kind of ludicrous frivolity that today’s Dublin needs.