Dan Sheehan, ‘Roysh on the money’, in The Irish Times (9 October 2010)

Details: Dan Sheehan, ‘Roysh on the money’, review of The Oh My God Delusion by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly [i.e., Paul Howard], in The Irish Times [Sat.] (9 October 2010), Weekend Review, p.10.

It’s hard to believe 12 years have passed since Paul Howard’s bombastically arrogant creation stepped blinking into the new dawn of the Celtic Tiger era. Since then his grotesquely comic depictions of south Dublin excess, which appear on the back page of this section of The Irish Times, have made this fictional anti-hero the most notorious of the period’s cubs. What began as a bitter parody of the (deep breath) south-Dublin-private-school-rugby subculture, as seen through the eyes of perhaps the most extreme caricature imaginable, has morphed over time into something far more lasting and significant than its creator could have envisaged.

As Ross evolved over the course of the series (more, it must be said, in the scope of his exploits than in his mental faculties), so too did the range of targets Howard took aim at. While the country’s triumphs and tribulations throughout the noughties would always play second fiddle to Ross’s sexual exploits and rugby fanaticism, few developments, either cultural or political, escaped the author’s commentary.

Local celebrities were superimposed into Ross’s milieu and mocked alongside him. Political scandals and pop-culture phenomena were eagerly swallowed up and spat back out as part of Ross’s bizarre Hiberno-English lexicon.

Deciphering all of Howard’s nods and nudges necessitated digging through layers of poetic jargon, unintelligible at first glance but an indispensable part of the tapestry that makes up Ross’s world. Yet, as became the case with his indomitable protagonist, the enduring popularity of the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly franchise as a whole owes as much to the warmth with which Howard treats his subjects as it does the accuracy with which he lampoons them.

While Ross is, in a host of ways, a monstrous creation - a selfish, pampered man child on his best days - he is not entirely devoid of conscience or empathy (something that comes to the fore quite poignantly in this latest offering through the relationship with his normally put-upon father). A family man who lambastes his parents, a loyal husband who is perennially chasing women, a social commentator with no interest in or knowledge of contemporary issues, he could be both a figure of derision in himself and a refreshing new lens through which we viewed the contradictory and often ludicrous nature of Irish society.

In this way Howard has taken what should have been a small-scale parody with a rapidly approaching sell-by date and turned it into one of the most enduring satirical figures in the Irish literary canon. Not to mention the fact that, year in, year out, Ross’s puerile misadventures and on-the-nose observations never fail to provoke a laugh-out-loud reaction. The Oh My God Delusion, as expected, is no exception.

Largely concerned with the “tragic” effects of the economic collapse on Ross and his much maligned upper-middle-class cohort - the increase in early-bird menus and the closing of Renards nightclub are received as the end of all things - the book is bursting at the seams with spot-on recession-heavy parody. The comic set pieces are as numerous and as reliably over the top as ever, with Ross’s disastrous appearance at a friend’s budget wedding being a particular highlight.

Far from being taken aback by the overnight disintegration of the world he so gleefully ridiculed for more than a decade, Howard - like Ross’s father and his contemporaries, who move seamlessly from one now-defunct enterprise to another burgeoning one (in their cases repossession and murky file-shredding) - simply rolls with the punches and discovers a wealth of new material to twist his cast of misfits around.

It is a testament to the nuances Howard has built into his narrator (underneath his more prevalent cartoonish tendencies) over the years that Ross’s anarchic transition back to the poorhouse with the rest of the country can be at times as affecting as it is hilarious.

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