Montpelier Parade opens with a scene in a butcher’s shop, with Sonny working alongside Joe and Mick, two men with quick wit and banter with the customers. There’s an observation that the shop is a forgotten place, something used only by the people that can’t drive. Mr Cosgrove is run over shortly after, and Sonny steals the cigarettes from the pocket of the man.
His mother and father row a lot, with her seeing her husband as a somewhat feckless individual, unable to provide for his family. Sonny gives the cigarettes to his father and questions whether he should’ve given them to his mother instead. I felt sorry for his mother throughout the book as we see her struggle through life, let down constantly by her son but regularly showing faith in him and giving him her help and support. He works with his father but thinks he is unable to mimic the work of his father and seems embarassed of his father’s ‘culchie’ way of speaking in front of Vera, a woman from the richer end of society.
From early in the book we see that young Sonny has a very keen interest in the female form. He manages to get hold of a bottle of wine and meets up with Sharon and there then follows several other meetings where something could well have happened between them. There’s a nice development to the story of Sonny and Sharon, with a real sweetness between them for most of their time together. They’re known each other for years and have an easy way with each other.
Most of the novel revolves around Sonny’s relationship with Vera. They appear an unlikely pairing but his visits with her become more frequent throughout the book. Knowing Vera opens up new worlds for him, with her house providing sanctuary and he discovers a world of books and visits the National Gallery. They are each gaining something different in the company of each other. I was constantly wondering about Vera’s background and how she came to be in the position she is. There’s a real air of loneliness and yearning with these characters throughout as they seek to move away from their current position in life.
Social class is something that comes up throughout Montpelier Parade, with Vera seen as being posh and Sonny being advised to stay away with her as this mix wouldn’t ordinarily happen. There’s a feeling that people that stay should stay in their place in life and real suspicion of people from higher classes. In Sonny’s school there’s a sense that he’s taking wasting space and his parents also seem to hold this view, feeling he should start looking for work instead.
Montpelier Parade is a really startling book. The writing is incredibly vivid and I really felt Sonny’s emotions and pain throughout. Vera is a brilliantly drawn character, someone who has a real air of mystery around her. This is a book that really pulls you in and I had to read it in just a few sittings. It maintains its power right up to the heartbreaking ending, which is executed with great power and sensitivity.