Irish writer Eoin McNamee’s new novel The Vogue is as beautiful and affecting as it is dark. It opens with a body being discovered in a sandpit that had been used for the illegal dumping of medical waste. It then slides back to the Second World War when the area as an airforce base and Gabriel Hooper, the last black American soldier on the base has been arrested for allegedly raping a local girl and is facing execution. And along the way it revisits a nearby childrens’ home in the 1970s.
Cole has come to the little coastal village of Morne, drawn by the discovery of the body. He claims to be from the Department of Defence, his interest due to the fact that the body was found on old DoD land. But perhaps the land actually belonged to Reverend Upritchard the local preacher and owner of a nearby caravan park. That preacher is the head of a cult-like fundamentalist religious sect called the Elected Brethren and has close tie in the community including with the local magistrate. Cole’s investigations brings him into the orbit of librarian Kay who is putting together an exhibition about the Second World War and has been receiving anonymously donated objects that point to irregularities in the trial and execution of Hooper. As Cole’s investigation starts to come closer to the truth of the body in the pit the men who are seemingly involved start to die in apparent accidents.
The Vogue is a bleak, atmospheric and moody piece, the writing conveying the darkness and despair. Some examples of this:
[Cole] walked across the car park. Two girls were outside the off licence. They wore coloured blouses in pink and blue which stood out like damask in the stark yard. Two boys stood in the lee of the dancehall gable, shoulders hunched against the driven blast. Cole wondered what they waited on for there seemed no prospect of anything other than more rain, more night.
The Limekiln Road. No place for a woman to live on her own. No place for anyone to live on their own. The road running along the sea’s edge. At night the east wind rattles the dry stems in the reed beds. In the dark there is the call of the seabirds from the mudflats, eerie pipings carried across the shifting channels and tide races. Brackish drains carry run-off into the shallows. Dead alder trees on the verges. People come out from the town to dump on the scrublands.
The Vogue is a dark tale of revenge and retribution set in a place “where promises are made but not kept”. The mysteries and secrets that underlie these stories, including Cole’s connection, are slowly and satisfyingly revealed. The constant slide between the three time periods serves to highlight the multigenerational wrongdoings in the community and their effect on individuals. And through these interconnected stands, McNamee effectively draws out not only themes of racism and misogyny underpinned by corruption but also of trust misplaced and betrayed.