Anne Haverty burst onto the literary scene in 1997 with One Day as a Tiger, her brilliant dissection of rural life in Ireland. In The Free and Easy, she looks at the effects of the Celtic Tiger on Dublin. Tom is sent there from the States by his great-uncle Pender, to appease the dreams of the old country that have been disturbing the old man's sleep. He finds a city in thrall to American money and harking back to an ersatz Irishness based on suffering and penury. Dublin is in stasis – simultaneously embracing the cliché of the American Dream and clinging to an illusory, romanticised and 'authentic' past. Tom gets enmeshed with the Kinane family and Gibbon Fitzgibbon's murky political past. He shares a meal with the Kinanes, during which they cling to their mobile phones, presenting the semblance of a contented family while reaching towards some imaginary message from outside that will propel them to something better. Each night, Mrs Kinane charges her children's phones, brooding over them as her last maternal ministration. There is no here-and-now, only an atrophied past of famine and poets, and an idealised future of glistening theme parks and Irish artistic talent sanctioned by American buyers. Tom moves around the city and the outlying countryside, initiated into the privileged world of country-house parties and people jostling for social position, while toying with setting up a foundation to help the travelling community. This, he believes, is the embodiment of the ancient spirit of the Irish. Across the city flits Eileen Kinane, a beautiful, elusive and ethereal creature with a tendency to self-harm. She's the modern Cathleen ni Houlihan, but with pink hair. Tom is in love.
Haverty bangs the drum too hard. The plot is subjugated constantly to the Point, which is hammered home at every available opportunity. Each character embodies some or other aspect of the post-colonial bind. Thrown together they present less the complex