The Avenue by James Lawless

A dreamy male librarian whose marriage is in a rut makes startling discoveries about his life as he unravels the secrets of a suburban avenue

The avenue

The story begins with a scantily-dressed girl dancing in a lighted window across from Francis Copeland’s house. Francis, now middleaged, whose life and marriage are in a rut, fantasises about the girl and finds it hard to accept, as he discovers later, that she is just plain Judy, a dancer in the local pub.

Francis was brought up in a cottage on a big estate where his father worked as a gardener. He spent his early years surrounded by fields. And then the houses started mushrooming. His own secure world was shattered at the age of twelve when his mother was killed by a motor car which was recklessly driven by a neighbour whose identity was concealed from Francis.

Francis’ wife, Myrtle, is older and more worldly-wise than Francis. She spent most of her youth gallivanting on the avenue or going with boys and her friend, Ida, to the blackberry field. Francis, on the other hand, is rather innocent of street-ways, having spent most of his youth looking after his widowed father as he grew senile.

With no offspring of his own, Francis befriends the children of the avenue, especially Freddy, the supposed son of George and Noreen Browne. Freddy is a denizen of the streets, neglected by his father and his invalid mother, but a likeable rogue nonetheless. Freddy and his dog, Melancholy, suffer tragically at the hands of the ciderdrinkers.

The hidden world of the avenue unfolds to Francis as he emerges from behind the covers of books (he works as the local librarian) – the haven where he had ensconced himself since his mother’s death. Who is Myrtle, his wife? (Does she genuinely go to bingo every Tuesday night?). He does not know her. Who are the real parents of Freddy? Who was the neighbour whose car killed Francis’ mother? Raw suburban truths are exposed as Francis, with the help of the local children, slowly unravels the secrets of the avenue.

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Some reviews of The Avenue:

“James Lawless has a mighty thoughtful and penetrating capacity to make you gasp and rage and then burst out laughing: wheels within wheels, circles within circles, this book is very good.”
Jennifer Johnston

“A work of passion and truth, which captures a moment of painful transition in the national story. If a multicultural England has drawn a map of itself in Brick Lane, so has a postmodern Ireland traced its past and present in The Avenue. James Lawless has revealed with indignation and art, yet another Hidden Ireland beyond the imaginings of our ancestors.”
Declan Kiberd

“Stuck in a council house with an aggressive, sneering wife and her best friend for bad company, Franky Copeland is lonely. He has developed an easy rapport with the kids who spend their days booting footballs into his garden, but everything changes when one of them is killed after being threatened by one of the estate’s cider-drinking loans. Franky soon finds himself drawn into a web of spite and malice, entangling the lithe exhibitionist from across the street, the dead boy’s father and even his wife and her willing accomplice. As much a critique of social ills and suburban decay as a tale of community angst in the areas left behind by the boom, this is a powerful, emotive work from Dublin-born author James Lawless, who has been shortlisted for a Hennessy and WOW award this year. With a seamless narrative and engaging, pacy plot, this book comes recommended.”

Julian Fleming in The Sunday Business Post, 24-04-10.


Book Review by Roslyn Fuller – The Avenue By James Lawless (Wordsonthestreet)

Last update – Saturday, October 15, 2011, 10:03 By Metro Éireann

Franky, a shy thirty- or forty-something librarian, has spent his entire life on ‘The Avenue’, somewhere presumably in a less affluent part of Dublin. Having devoted his younger years to caring for his depressed father, Franky married young to the older Myrtle to avoid the scandal of a child born out of wedlock, and has shuffled along ever since, engaged in retiring activities like gardening and reading.

But when a set of go-go dancers comes to the local pub and Franky discovers a wad of heroin stuffed inside a soccer ball, things begin to change. He must defeat the evil cider-drinkers terrorising the neighbourhood, liberate the go-go dancers from their pimps, find out whatever happened to his and Myrtle’s miscarried child, help his assistant librarian find true love, and free himself from Myrtle and her evil cohort Ida.
This is an extremely localised story, in which the miserable lives of The Avenue’s inhabitants are exposed. I found the relationships between men and women most striking, with women near universally being portrayed as aggressive (man-hating lesbians Ida and Myrtle), deceitful (go-go dancer Judy and her drug-dealing mother), or cynical nymphomaniacs (terminally-ill Noreen).
The men, on the other hand, tend to come across as the helpless victims of feminine wiles: Franky’s father and one of his neighbours completely unable to cope with the deaths of their wives; the assistant librarian Michael naively caught in Judy’s toils; and Franky himself trapped in endless servitude to Myrtle.
It’s as if the men, unable to deal with life, have handed control to the women who either fail to take them into any further consideration, or ultimately abandon them through death.
I have observed this underlying hostility between the genders in Ireland for many years, and it was interesting to see it come through in a novel. Of course, Franky ultimately finds his backbone, turning a tale that is otherwise grim ultimately triumphal.
The Avenue is a very well written and well-produced novel, steering clear of both misery memoir and nostalgic glorification, and the narrator Franky has an utterly credible voice. It was pretty page-turning and struck me as a much better portrayal of Irish life in transition from traditional to modern than many a more self-consciously reminiscent tale.
If you want to see the world your Irish contemporaries are coming from, you really could do a lot worse than The Avenue. I’d be inclined to take it over many a celebrated bestseller.

Genre: FICTION / General

Secondary Genre: FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General

Language: English

Keywords: suburbs, children , secrets , vulnerability, drugs, exploitation, loneliness

Word Count: 64,000

Sales info:

Steady sales in paperback and on the web and in kindle editions.

Sample text:

The room across from my study is lighted as if in expectation of someone. I can make out a bed and an ivory-coloured wardrobe and what looks like the back of a mirror perched near the window. A tall blond girl in a black leather jacket and jeans enters the room. She is perhaps in her late teens. She removes her jacket and a T-shirt underneath and then sheds the jeans which leave her standing in what apparently is a pink bikini. I turn off the light in the study and view her from the darkness, feeling a rush of heat to my face.

            She starts to dance presumably to the accompaniment of some music, judging by the way she swings her arms and gyrates her hips and bends and turns and shakes her long mane. I stare through my dark rectangular screen and try to construct a character for this silent dancer. Give her a name. Call her Sandra. I imagine girls named Sandra as blond. A young girl on the avenue with a blond doll in a pram told me to say hello to Sandra, to shake her hand, and she forced a squeak out of the doll by pressing her torso down to meet her legs. 

Book translation status:

The book is available for translation into any language except those listed below:

Already translated. Translated by Muther Alohmayed
Already translated. Translated by Karin Kellie
Already translated. Translated by Priyanka Nabar
Already translated. Translated by Ute Hütten
Author review:
Ute is a thorough, accurate and faithful translator of literary work. Her translation of my novel The Avenue into German was done brilliantly, and she is open to all authorial suggestions. I highly recommend her as a translator.
Already translated. Translated by luisa agnese dalla fontana
Author review:
Luisa is a thorough and precise translator. She examines every detail, capturing the nuances of the target language, making for a very faithful translation of the author;s original work. I highly recommend her.
Already translated. Translated by Cristina Bensassy Costa
Author review:
I had the pleasure of working with Cristina who translated my novel The Avenue into Portuguese. She is a very competent literary translator, thorough and precise, capturing the nuances of the original very well. I highly recommend her.
Already translated. Translated by Cristina Menéndez Molina
Author review:
I had the pleasure of working with Cristina as she translated my novel The Avenue into Spanish. She is thorough, prompt and accurate in her work. She is also an enthusiastic promoter of the translate book. I highly recommend her.

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