Lulled by a series of swift and sure dissolves, in an apparently orthodox romance of Irish immigrant life in post-war London, we are seduced by an immersive poetic when John Healy conjures his magical transformation around the sensory overload of a women’s laundry. The skies darken. An urgent, brutal and ultimately tragic resolution is waiting in the railside scrapyard of The Metal Mountain. This glittering alp of damage, an unsorted mound heaped from the discarded toys of capitalism, is as potent a symbol for our contemporary confusions as the dust heaps of Dickens. Nature is avenged and Healy has given us a brave sequel, as genuine fiction now, to The Grass Arena.
In John Healy’s long awaited first novel—his first publication since The Grass Arena—London is a city of ruins and rubble: in fighting against a police state Britain has become almost a police state itself. Rationing is still in place, the black market is thriving, medical shortages have resulted in antibiotics being watered down. Though Britain was possessed of great decency there was a limit to what it might be expected to bear after suffering six years of war. The barbarities of war had change peoples’ attitudes; nobody thought of foreigners in terms of human beings. The Salvation Army were singing of salvation while the kids on the street were singing saucy songs about inn keeper’s daughters and German officers that had crossed the line. New arrival seventeen-year old Bridget Kelly dreams of a world where everyone is equal. “There is no cause more dangerous” warns one council official as she sets about the task of trying to make her dream come true. She is courageous and determined and in terrible danger. Her young nephew Michael schemes and plots to win the metal mountain, a gothic edifice, a treacherous Hades, a fabulous kingdom of iron. Meanwhile, his young aunt has come under the scrutiny of the British secret police. Blackmail, betrayal and murder follow. A perverse grand tragedy with an edge of iron.
John Healy is a writer of novels, plays and an award-winning autobiography. He was born on Armistice Day 1942, the firstborn of five children, of an Irish family in Kentish Town, North London. Healy was a teenage boxing champion; although he won many amateur titles, he was already an alcoholic. Pressed into the army in 1959 he went AWOL. On capture Healy was transferred to a penal battalion. Healy spent fifteen violent, destitute years living rough at a time when begging carried an automatic prison sentence. In 1986 he wrote his ‘savage masterpiece’ The Grass Arena, (now a Penguin Modern Classic), which won the J. R. Ackerley Prize in 1989 for autobiography. Streets Above Us, his first novel, was published in1990. The Metal Mountain is John Healy’s second novel, published thirty years after The Grass Arena.