Kala by Colin Walsh - review by Archie Cornish

Archie Cornish

Return to the Scene of the Crime

Kala

By

Atlantic Books 400pp £16.99
 

In Philip Larkin’s ‘Sunny Prestatyn’, the image of a pretty girl spreading ‘breast-lifting arms’ on a poster advertising the titular Welsh seaside resort is brutally defaced, leaving her ‘snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed’. Colin Walsh’s excellent debut novel has at its heart a teenager who, like Larkin’s, is ‘too good for this life’. We’re by the sea, but somewhere wilder than Prestatyn’s bucket-and-spade melancholy: Kinlough, a tourist town on the west coast of Ireland, on the far side of a wooded tangle of lanes and farms called the Warren.

It’s the summer of 2018 and three old friends are back home: Helen, a freelance investigative journalist based in Canada; Joe, a pop star who lives in LA; and Mush, who never left and spends his days steaming milk in his mother’s cafe and drinking cans of Tuborg. Joe has returned for a gig at Flanagan’s (‘a legendary spot before the recession’) and Helen is here for her father’s remarriage to Mush’s aunt. Joe’s father is high up in the Gardaí. Everyone knows – or knows about – everyone else. Walsh captures superbly the entanglements of small-town life and how undramatic interpersonal connections can in an instant acquire the high stakes of a saga.

Human remains are discovered in the woods. Kala went missing in 2003, aged fifteen, having assembled a circle of six friends, of which she was the magnetic centre. Aoife and Aidan have withdrawn from the group, so present events are narrated by Helen, Joe and Mush. Mush and Helen

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