Part 2 of a Double Shot. Don't miss Ryan Bracha's review of the same book from this morning.
Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words
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Gerard Brennan lives in Northern Ireland with his family and is currently studying for an MA in creative writing at Belfast University. Gerard has previously published several other works including the novel, Wee Rockets, a novella, The Point and contributed to a number of anthologies.
You can learn more about Gerard on his website.
Mickey ‘The Rage’ Rafferty is a bare knuckle fighter taking on unlicensed, underground fights to feed his family. However his trainer, Eddie Smith, thinks he’s better than that. Enter Swifty, a man with fantastic training facilities and money to spend on getting Mickey to the top – but at a price.
The novella opens with Mickey going toe to toe in an unlicensed bare knuckle fight in a closed down primary school in West Belfast. His opponent - Psycho Sid. Written in the first person the description of the brawl is in-your-face raw, tough and uncompromising – just what I’ve come to expect of the author’s high quality writing.
However, Welcome to the Octagon is significantly more than a book about fisticuffs. Mickey is a single father. He takes on unlicensed fights to feed his eight year old daughter, Lily. His sister-in-law, Bernadette, hates Mickey with a passion and blames him for his wife Angela’s death. To deal with his anger management issues Mickey writes poetry.
To be fair Mickey isn’t equipped to do much more than fight, but he wants a legitimate career, specifically as a cage fighter, but he’s stuck, unable to go higher, forced to go lower, not really believing in himself. When dodgy Swifty turns up Mickey knows there’s something dubious about the arrangement, that the offer is too good to true, but what choice does he have?
Brennan keeps the character list small, key in writing a strong novella. Managing the word count to tell the story in a tight fashion with a very few pages is tough, but achieved with verve. The characters are very strong, the dialogue is sharp and to the point. The first person narrative really helps.
However, the underlying aspect of this novella is, for me, the strong connections the characters have. The love interest is generated by a fiery beauty, Mona. There’s Eddie the trainer, surrogate father to Mickey, Barry Boom Boom Boyd, a surprising friend in need with a hidden side and the touching father / daughter bond where the eight year old girl looks out for Mickey as much as he does for her. The spiky hate-hate relationship with Bernadette makes sense and adds value. I also like the fact that the author doesn’t turn Mickey into some undefeatable hulk, quite the opposite as he’s riddled with doubt in his own abilities, how he’s living his life and treating his friends. His only certainty is he has to look out for his girl.
The writing is, again, very high quality. The descriptive prose is excellent, little descriptive nuggets like:
“Sid wheezed like a stabbed accordion.”
“Swifty laughed. It sounded like a chainsaw chugging to life.”
Great stuff from Gerard Brennan. Again.
Welcome to the Octagon is published as part of the Fight Card series, all of which are issued under the pen name of Jack Tunney.
Contains fight scenes.
Rating: ***** Five Stars