Mr Bawman Wants to Tango by Mogue Doyle is sure to reverberate given the current scandals in relation to the Catholic Church. It intertwines the pleasures of adolescence with the overly regulated and sometimes even menacing environment of a Catholic boarding school, which one can face either by showing Hank Chinaski-like indifference or keeping a stiff upper lip.
Johnny and Martin are alcoholics living under a bridge in their home town. Their stories, and how they both ended up homeless, are intimately linked from the two years they spent together in a religious order’s boarding school.
Johnny tells the story of their initially innocent days in the school: their loneliness; their interactions with the other students and the canings they got from priests. He also describes their methods of dealing with the Mr Bawmans – the monks that prey on the naive young students for their own sexual gratification.
However, the boys lives become more complicated once they meet two sisters working in the school kitchens. According to the societal rules of the students, liaisons with girls working in the school are not acceptable. When Martin impregnates his girlfriend, Billy — the school bully — in an episode with echoes of Lord of the Flies, holds a show trial to make an example of him to the rest of the students.
With lyrical writing evoking comparisons to Pat McCabe and Flann O’Brien, Mogue Doyle delivers a darkly humorous coming-of-age tale with raw emotion dripping from the page.