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In a video on the Brownbread mixtapes Youtube channel, Karl Parkinson reads his “Positivity Manifesto.” In a torrent of words and imagery he moves from Walt Whitman to weight loss hypnotist Paul McKenna, to Nintendo Wii, referencing William Blake and the Sugar Hill Gang on the way. He concludes that “water is (his) positivity” in the face of fiery hostility and negative thoughts. In his new novel The Blocks Kenny, himself a young poet, comes of age in the flats in inner city Dublin. He must also contend with negativity that threatens to sap his creative energy.
From a young age, Parkinson’s narrator is privy to intense visions. As a child his bed transports him to another realm where he converses with a large tree. He must also be wary of a talking bumble bee. More malevolent are the omnipresent Glooptings that are synonymous with bad decisions, mental distress and death. Eventually an angel appears before Kenny and urges him to forsake the violence and temptations of life in the blocks in favour of creative activity. The young man is already a fan of William Blake’s poetry, citing him amongst Oasis, Pink Floyd and other influences. However, it takes him time to realise that it is poetry where his true creative vision lies.
The narrative is composed of episodic flashes of memory, divided into three ‘blocks’ of reminiscence. Blocks A,B and C take us through Kenny’s childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, providing a comprehensive account of his journey towards his creative realisation when taken as a whole. Intermingled with Kenny’s memories are other ‘voices from the blocks’, which give the novel a hybrid flash fiction dimension. Moments ranging from a man’s weekend out of prison, a child waiting to be fed, a mother haunted by a childhood watching Mickey Mouse are tantalising in their brevity.
Parkinson creates a unique narrative voice for Kenny, rooted in the vernacular language and spelling of his narrator’s childhood home. This creates an interesting new expression of the romantic ideals that our narrator applies to his life. Wordsworth’s notion of poetic diction is the use of ‘language that is near to the language of men’, which is accessible to a wide range of readers. Though Kenny prefers the more hallucinatory verse of Blake, the prose is always clear and vibrant, even at its most transcendental and breathless. He explores the all of the emotions and experiences of his adolescent and young life with rapt attention to the finer details. He is not, however, blind to the uglier aspects of life in the blocks. With the benefit of hindsight, Kenny recognises the pitfalls that may have awaited him, but in the moment it is his faith in his own creative vision which guides him.
He speaks at length on the different quality of bounce of an indoor ball when it is used outside, as well as the chemical euphoria he quickly becomes acquainted with. He also extols on the depth of the relationships he shares with his closest friends. There is great reverence in the portraits Kenny paints of childhood friends and family members, many of whom pass away young. He does not however, shy away from the defects in these personalities as they come under warping influences of life in the blocks, proving himself a perceptive when it comes to character. Kenny’s descriptions of female characters demonstrate his objectification of women, which appears to be widespread in the blocks. Kenny’s discovery of true love causes to realise the emptiness of lust, another step in his elevation towards a better self.
Overall, Parkinson’s blocks are a place where beauty pervades an otherwise frustrating atmosphere. His personal view of the blocks and Dublin’s inner city is one largely absent elsewhere in Irish letters. The portrayal is real and the reader cannot forget, or escape, the shadows that hang over the narrator. It is difficult not to share in the joy of Kenny’s triumphs, as the power of the The Blocks lies in its positivity.
Featured Image Source – The Monday Echo