Éilis from the Flats

(2 customer reviews)


“Powerful depictions of urban poverty”

Irish Times



A novel by Paul Larkin

This Irish novel of scandal and substance abuse follows the exploits of Tommy Baker, a veteran journalist; James Tierney, a researcher at Empire Television; Jimmy Heffernan, a reformed north-side Dublin gangster and local hero; and Éilis Devanney, who lives in the Star of the Sea flats, in Jimmy’s neighbourhood. When Éilis writes a document for Tommy and James, revealing that Jimmy is in no way reformed, there is no going back. The truth will come out. Éilis from the Flats is a hard-nosed but tender chronicle of flawed characters, bad choices, and contemporary Dublin life.

Paul Larkin worked for five years in the Danish Merchant Navy before taking a degree in Scandinavian and Celtic Studies. He later trained as a film director with the BBC. He had a long career in journalism and filmmaking before returning to Scandinavian languages and fiction as a translator, critic, and author.

Additional information



Number of pages




Publication date

October 29, 2019

2 reviews for Éilis from the Flats

  1. Billy O’Shea

    “She is not an Irish town, and she is not English” wrote the poet Louise MacNeice. The attempt to pin down the elusive nature of Dublin has been the ambition of many Irish writers: James Joyce, James Plunkett and Christy Brown among them. What all of them perceived is that Dublin is not just a place, but a person; not just a setting, but a soul – and a soul that is both ubiquitous and subtle. The lady’s not for pinning.
    The writer Paul Larkin, formerly a journalist and TV documentary director, and more recently a highly respected translator of Nordic literature, is the latest to make the attempt, in his novel Éilis from the Flats. His canvas is broad, covering a very wide range of characters and milieux, but it focuses sharply on two localities, which might be considered polar opposites: a Dublin slum, and the headquarters of the national television station.
    The ‘flats’ of the title is a housing project, the Star of the Sea, which is falling apart both socially and structurally, with drug addiction, crime and violence characterising the daily lives of the residents. A wall on the estate is the meeting-place of a group of girls, while nearby, a small band of Goths form a kind of Greek chorus to the dramatic events that unfold around them:
    “Across the way from the wall – where once was a small children’s park, whose swings had been hacked and assaulted and finally laid low, the other play contraptions fired to death – there was now a wasteland of battered fridges and chairs, cars and boxes, and here a group of youths had the custom of gathering as some kind of weird counterpoint to the female wall.”
    However, although the author’s social commitment burns through every page of this book, this is not a work of social realism, because in this unpromising setting we find a magical creature, something as unlikely in its way as a unicorn or a faerie: a teenage girl with one foot in the otherworld, who lives and breathes her country’s myths and has embarked on a one-woman crusade to rid the world of evil. Éilis, originally an Irish speaker from Donegal, is a foreign element in the decadent city, a symbol of purity, and like many figures of myth, she is also an orphan and a stepchild. It is the interaction between this Joan of Arc-like figure and two other characters, in particular – the gang boss Jimmy Heffernan and the TV journalist Tommy Baker – that bears the action of the story. What happens when innocence meets depravity? It is by no means given which of them will triumph – if either.
    Lost in a sea of dreams, Éilis can foretell the future and heal the sick, but she cannot navigate her own emotions. When we first meet her, she is, as we might expect, a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Here she writes a document, part prophecy and part exposé, which she gets a friend to deliver to a journalist at Empire Television. The journalist and his researcher are sufficiently impressed to want to follow up on the story. And thus begins a chain of events that leads to several violent killings.
    Éilis’s cousin, Jimmy Heffernan, the local gang boss, is a well-drawn character. He is no simple hoodlum, but a complex personality with ambitions and dreams of his own. Having fought his way up from the streets, his greatest wish now is to achieve respectability by starting a chain of nightclubs. He has a gift for manipulation, entertaining famous guests with great largesse at his club while secretly videoing them snorting cocaine. But he also has a taste for fine art and beauty, which is what draws him to Éilis, whom he views as the living embodiment of the reproduction of Girl With A Pearl Earring that hangs on his wall. He lusts for her – not carnally, but as a possession, a perfect work of art, a bird in a gilded cage. He dreams of orchestrating a scene in which she will be photographed at his side, the final confirmation of his arrival in high society. But as Éilis is immune to all the usual blandishments of fame, power, drugs and money, the task will not be an easy one.
    The third major character in the story is Tommy Baker, once an investigative documentary maker of some repute, now brought low by the death of his wife and his own subsequent alcoholism. Tommy takes Éilis seriously and is willing to make a film about Jimmy Heffernan. But Tommy has his own enemies within the corridors of Empire Television who are all too eager to see him fall from grace. Whether he will manage to get his documentary broadcast before the wheels that are turning around him bring about his downfall is one of the main points of tension in the story.
    Ultimately, Éilis from the Flats is a story about different forms of power: the economic power of the gangland boss, the power of violence and fear, the power of addiction, the wise woman power of Éilis and her unwitting sexual magnetism, and the power of journalism and the media. All of these are brought together in the cockpit of the city in a fight to the death, both literal and metaphorical.
    Larkin has a fine feel for the rhythms of Dublin speech, and the highly convincing dialogue is one of the strongest features of the novel, contrasting with the magical and surreal elements. The realistic language could itself however prove a problem for a wider audience, as some of the idioms and references may be rather obscure – and it helps to know some Irish, as well.
    I found the large array of characters confusing at times, and perhaps the story could have benefited from a sharper focus on the three main characters, with fewer digressions. But overall, for anyone with an interest in Ireland, this is a saga for our times, and a tale well worth reading.

  2. Niels Pultz

    This is a truly fascinating read which gives an intriguing twist to the crime thriller genre but surpasses that genre in terms of its breadth of vision. The portrayals of Dublin’s north inner city milieu manage to be both revealing and empathetic but at times also really shocking.
    The novel also provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of the modern day journalist and a big, powerful TV channel. However what makes ‘Éilis from the Flats’ really stand out is the tough questions it puts to its readers and to society at large. What are we doing to our world and just as importantly to each other? The novel suggests that, in some specific regards at least, a return to more traditional values such as ‘community and use of the Irish language would be better. If all that is not interesting enough, readers are invited to ponder the central figure of Éilis herself. Is she crazy? Is she a modern day saint? Is such a thing even possible nowadays? What’s not in doubt is that she sees things that others don’t see. But are these things real? The reader is put on a knife edge from the start with Éilis. She is obviously not right for these times and other heroes who died young are also invoked. More than anything the reader feels that hers is a cry for the dignity of the individual in an age of often mind numbing social media discourse. I can only praise this compelling novel highly.

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