The Life and Times of a Teaboy by Michael Collins tells the story of an unusual man named Ambrose Feeney. Through the novel, we are presented with several stages of Feeney’s life. His mother, a devout Catholic, believes everything comes from God – including Ambrose’s good Leaving Cert results – and his father is the unloving but also unloved man who spends his time cycling through Ireland, trying to get away from his wife and children. Ultimately, however, this interesting portrayal of life in Ireland is about one man’s attempt to keep a grip on sanity, and to avoid the mental turmoil that is surely heading his way.
The novel’s opening was immediately gripping and gruesome (vegetarians beware!). It is not until after this chapter, however, that the reader is truly taken inside the realms of this novel – into its dark, murky depths – to feel the pain, the suffering, and the oppression of a Catholic country and its effect on the mentally unstable. Ambrose couldn’t be described as a relatable character – his mental illness acts as a shield between he and the reader. However he did constantly evoke my sympathy. His mother is a very complex and interesting character. She shows the way of life that many people would like to forget – one where a woman’s place was at home, waiting for men to look after her. She believes utterly in the divine, and insistently makes Ambrose thank God for everything in his life.
Strangely it is at these two characters where the depth ends. In fact, the rest of the characters, although being somewhat prominent, fail to have too much going on – this is down to the way in which the novel is told. It is told in the third person, but the reader seems to settle in Ambrose’s mind. We feel what he feels and see what he sees. Ultimately, there is no room in this story for peripheral characters: there is the insane and the cause of the insanity only.
But despite this novel’s unconventional style and story telling ways, one thing is clear: Michael Collins is a genius. His writing style is the most gripping part of the story. He writes with a rapidity that’s startling and worrying simultaneously. The way he forms his sentences seem to give us an idea of Ambrose’s fractured thought process.
It’s mainly for this reason that I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. With relatable characters, a gripping and slightly eerie plot, and a writing style that is simply impeccable, it is clear that this novel ought to be read by anyone who likes a good challenge and a great story.