1979. PUNK IS IN DECLINE.
ESPECIALLY THIS PUNK.
On the platform at Holyhead I approach a uniformed man with a whistle.
‘Is this the 6:55 to Auschwitz?’ I ask.
‘Enough of your cheek, lad.’
‘Arbeit Macht Frei!’
‘It’s Gaelic for thank you.’
March, 1979. Sid Vicious is dead, Margaret Thatcher is very much alive, and Barry has just arrived in London. Twenty years old, Irish and angry, he cons his way into a job at Sellafield, home of Britain’s military-grade plutonium. It’s the start of a hilarious and hallucinatory coming-of-age tale that ranges from sordid coal-bunker squats to the tea room at the Ritz, via the Parisian Left Bank and the blooming poppy fields of Ireland.
Here is a portrait of an artist on acid, amphetamines and PCP, who finds himself working at the heart of Britain’s nuclear industry. It pulses with stories and stories within stories, eye-watering, sexy, terrifying and poignant. A wild, hellish descent that is also a rush for the stars, A Ton of Malice is the demented love-child of Irvine Welsh, Hunter S. Thompson and Matt Groening.
And, if it matters, it’s almost all true.
Barry McKinley's stories have twice been shortlisted for the Hennessy Literary Award. He has written for BBC Radio 4 and RTE. His stage plays include Elysium Nevada, which was nominated in 2010 for Best New Play at the Irish Theatre Awards. After narrowly failing to destroy the world in 1979, he gave up the attempt, and now restores old buildings for a living. His younger self would be horrified.