The Record
(Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, Ontario)
09-02-02

Confessions worthy of Oprah
Kavanagh’s first novel for adults is exquisite

The Confessions of Nipper Mooney, by Ed Kavanagh (Killick Press, 322 pages, $19.95).

By Veronica Ross
For The Record

How about some magic?

"On the morning of August 15, 1962, the day his father passed away, Nipper Mooney was stolen by the fairies." So begins Ed Kavanagh’s first novel for adults. He is the author of the Amanda Greenleaf children’s books for children and lives in St. John’s, Nfld.

The Confessions of Nipper Mooney is set in Kildura, a small farming community near St. John’s, and yes, maybe there are fairies hiding in the countryside.

Nipper thinks it’s possible: he cannot account for the hours after his father died. The sky was bright as he closed his eyes near Wishing Rock. Suddenly the sky clouded over. Nipper returned home to find his aunt, Mona, waiting on the doorstep.

"Get in and get your supper." Wasn’t breakfast just awhile ago? But the clock reads six.

Kildura seems a magical place. Settled by the Irish, the community is filled with stories and lore. The Roman Catholic Church plays a big part in the lives of the people. Children attend St. Brigid’s where they are taught by the strict Sister Mary Ignatius and Sister Annunciata.

Nipper Mooney, whose real name is Nicholas, is a serious, reflective boy who thinks about the lives of the saints, the nature of God and the mysteries of sin.

Going to confession is a problem. The confessional seems like a coffin and Nipper hates going. Sometimes he makes up sins.

A good friend is Brendan Flynn, an eccentric elderly man who walks the barrens to pray and think. Do animals have souls?

Brendan believes so.

"It’s his soul that’s important," Brendan says of Mick, an old horse that has just died.

But life is not all reflection. It’s the ‘60s, and Kavanagh creates a real community peopled with characters that come to life: Monsignor Murphy, Aunt Mona who drives up from St. John’s, Paddy Dunne and his sister Rosarie who live in a ramshackle house and Nipper’s friend Brigid.

Their lives are centred in Kildura and in the church, but they are not unaffected by the death of President Kennedy. They watch Ed Sullivan and discuss Elvis. The Beatles have just appeared.

Life changes for Nipper when his mother decides to send him to All Angels, a school run by the Christian Brothers in St. John’s.

It’s supposed to be a chance for a better education, but his teachers are either unqualified—the French teacher doesn’t even know French—or sadistically crazy as they strap and punish.

The school strap is the "Black Doctor," but Brother Crane has his own instrument of torture, the White Bomber. Brother Spencer wraps a talkative boy, mummy-like, in gauze and displays him. "I must be taking my little project off to the other classes."

Nipper watches and grows . . . and still worries about sin. How many prayers would it take to atone for looking at dirty pictures?

Boys do protest—one Brother is actually punched out—and the awful goings-on do not, as they could have, come across as a diatribe, but rather as the depiction of a time and place peopled with very real characters.

Nipper watches and reflects and grows. And still worries about sin.

How many prayers would it take to atone for looking at dirty pictures? And how about trying thinking about the whorehouse on Gardiner Street?

"The prayers spilled off his tongue as rapidly as the cupcakes and cookies sailed along the conveyor belt at Madden’s Bakery." But Nipper thought of other things as he prayed and he has stopped going to confession.

Later, he becomes involved with Brigid. She asks if he is ever going back to confession. Nipper . . . brushed his fingers along her fine hair. "No . . . I don’t have anything to confess."

This is a fine novel with exquisite writing and a distinctive voice. It’s the kind of book you want to read and re-read.

Killick Press has published some fine writing but often the writers do not receive the national recognition they deserve.

Kavanagh’s novel should have a wide readership, lots of hoopla. Talk shows and Oprah and People magazine. Why not?

Exposure and promotion make so many blah books big, but good books too often remain largely undiscovered because people don’t know about them.

See you on Oprah, Ed Kavanagh.

– Veronica Ross is a Kitchener novelist.

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