The Sunday Herald (Halifax)
02-09-01

Coming-of-age novel hilarious, spiritual
By Peggy MacKinnon

Canada needs more writers like Ed Kavanagh. His first novel for adults, The Confessions of Nipper Mooney, is a classic coming-of-age story about a boy's journey to adulthood.  Set in 1960s Newfoundland, the novel follows Nicholas Mooney from his premature birth - when his small size earned him the nickname Nipper - to his graduation from an all-boys school run by the Christian Brothers.

Kavanagh taps into the island's richly atmospheric Irish-Catholic culture, using it as raw material for the creation of an evocative poetics of place.  While the book is aimed at an older audience, Kavanagh stays true to the narrative style of his Amanda Greenleaf children's series, delivering a straightforward prose punctuated with exquisitely spare descriptive passages and fresh, natural dialogue.  The characters are boldly drawn and believable, resonating with a raw authenticity that balances the mythological subtext underlying the story. This layering effects an intoxicating blurring of boundaries between religion and folklore, poetry and prayer, faith and truth.

Some of the funniest moments revolve around existential questions and issues of morality.  Particularly hilarious is a scene in which the young characters debate whether their discovery of a cache of cigarettes represents soul-destroying temptation or providential opportunity.Equally engaging is the childlike candour with which Kavanagh treats sadness and loss, rendering passages that might otherwise register as maudlin deeply poignant.From the enigmatic Brendan Flynn, for whom divinity and the natural world are inextricably linked, to the figure of Brigid, who exists as both religious icon and flesh-and-blood agent of his sexual awakening, Nipper's world is peopled on two planes of existence, spiritual and corporeal.This book presents a snapshot of the world as seen through the eyes of a child, a fact that may lead some to question whether its designation as adult fiction is entirely appropriate. And while the novel rounds to a satisfying close, the ending is compromised slightly by a few details that remain unresolved (whatever did they do with those cartons of cigarettes, anyway?).These criticisms are minor, however, in light of what is undeniably a well-executed, memorable piece of work that shows every sign of becoming a classic in Canadian fiction.With The Confessions of Nipper Mooney, Ed Kavanagh strides confidently onto the Canadian literary stage at the beginning of what hopefully will be a long and productive career writing more excellent books like this.

– Peggy MacKinnon is a freelance writer who lives in Halifax.

Ed Kavanagh, 18 Parsons Avenue, Mount Pearl, NL, Canada A1N 1P6    Phone: 709-364-6386   email