Marshmallows by Colin O’Sullivan

Preview: to be published on NB Magazine

This is the third novel by O’Sullivan that I’ve reviewed after Killarney Blues and Dark Manual. I like Colin O’Sullivan, his novels are a constant surprise; the story darkens with every page and yet there’s always a witty undertone – it’s all so unpredictable. Marshmallows even has a soundtrack, as the drama plays out, an O’Sullivan trope; naturally it’s Christmas oriented as this tale is set on Christmas Eve. Not that this is the kind of Christmas you would wish on anyone, or perhaps you might come to think that the mayhem and violence is deserved?

Christmas Eve. Brick and Brac, not their real names, are brothers, good soldiers, able to follow orders to the letter, of course, no one would have these boys in their army, they inhabit a more disordered world – but every step they take is planned. Brick drives a white van, it’s the middle of the night, he stops at an unmanned petrol station, he smashes the surveillance cameras and…leaves? Why? That will become clear.

So the season of goodwill is underway but not everyone is feeling the festive cheer, Ben doesn’t care for it for a start. The nightmares never really went away and they burst into his mind during the daytime too now. Ben is a set designer, he’s sitting at the kitchen table preparing ‘special’ homemade Christmas crackers for the party at boyfriend David’s parents’ house later. David emerges from the bedroom, he’s a carefree character, not at all like Ben; he was out again last night, partying, Ben doesn’t approve, David thinks Ben is too moody, too introvert. They’ve been together for just over a year, if opposites attract that must be why these two got together, unless there’s something else afoot? David asks if there’ll be jokes in the crackers. Ben tells him more like instructions, and then he lies, making something up on the spot. The cracker instruction might say – stand up, put on a Christmas hat and recite a line of poetry. David says wrap it well and Ben replies:

‘I always wrap things up nicely.’

David’s parents, Charles, actor and TV personality, and Lydia are preparing for their guests. They hope Ben will stabilise David’s wilder side, get him to knuckle down to his PhD, put his life on track. Everything is about to get detailed.

The little theatre with the Gothic facade has been restored Brick has the keys, the boss wants to put on a play, there’s a solitary tree on the stage, the venue is ready. Brick and Brac are Waiting for Godot.

O’Sullivan’s latest novel intertwines several stories elegantly, this novel is gripping, intriguing and clever. I’d much rather read this than a happy ever after Christmas tale, this is a story that bites.

Betimes Books, paperback, ISBN 9781916156548, out now

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