Books

Lazy City by Rachel Connolly review: A mesmerising portrait of modern Belfast

The Booker longlist has ignored some exceptional books, not least this absorbing debut novel by Rachel Connolly

Lazy City by Rachel Connolly book cover

It isn’t exactly an iconoclastic take that the Booker Prize, which released its latest longlist last month, is about as useful a way of discovering the year’s best literary releases as blue-tick Twitter is for finding people who aren’t mental.

The omissions of Eliza Clark, AK Blakemore, Barbara Kingsolver, Brandon Taylor, Catherine Lacey, Emma Cline and Alice Wynn, among numerous others, suggest that the judges weren’t just in a bubble this year, they were huddled in an oubliette in some distant tundra. 

One of the most egregious snubs has to be Rachel Connolly’s Lazy City. Set in Belfast, the novel follows Erin as she returns to her home city after the death of her best friend in London.

She is initially met with disorientation; has the city always been this close-knit? How is it possible to constantly bump into people you know in a city with a population in the hundreds of thousands? Why can she not simply just go for an anonymous run? It’s an anxiety that’s experienced by many of us and Connolly captures the almost lurking horror of it incredibly well.

However, the novel is about much more. Being a novel set in Belfast, there are many opportunities for it to reveal itself as a Troubles narrative in disguise, but Connolly steers clear of the pitfalls that so many other Northern Irish writers get trapped in. Being a ceasefire baby, her novel sees signs of the Troubles as pentimento through the city but refuses to allow them to take over her narrative.

Exploring a theme that rarely makes an appearance in contemporary novels by younger writers, Erin often takes solace in the churches in her area. Though it is very much viewed as a sort-of embarrassing quirk within Erin, it allows Connolly to meditate on and in these spaces, giving Erin a place to go where it can just be her and her reader. 

It’s a genius little move on Connolly’s part which suggests that, though she made her name as a non-fiction writer, her future as a novelist is incredibly exciting.

Barry Pierce is a journalist and cultural commentator

Lazy city book cover

Lazy City by Rachel Connolly is out now (Canongate Books, £16.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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