The Avenue

The av front new

The story begins with a scantily-dressed girl dancing in a lighted window across from Francis Copeland’s house. Francis, now middleaged, whose life and marriage are in a rut, fantasises about the girl and finds it hard to accept, as he discovers later, that she is just plain Judy, a dancer in the local pub.

Francis was brought up in a cottage on a big estate where his father worked as a gardener. He spent his early years surrounded by fields. And then the houses started mushrooming. His own secure world was shattered at the age of twelve when his mother was killed by a motor car which was recklessly driven by a neighbour whose identity was concealed from Francis.

Francis’ wife, Myrtle, is older and more worldly-wise than Francis. She spent most of her youth gallivanting on the avenue or going with boys and her friend, Ida, to the blackberry field. Francis, on the other hand, is rather innocent of street-ways, having spent most of his youth looking after his widowed father as he grew senile.

With no offspring of his own, Francis befriends the children of the avenue, especially Freddy, the supposed son of George and Noreen Browne. Freddy is a denizen of the streets, neglected by his father and his invalid mother, but a likeable rogue nonetheless. Freddy and his dog, Melancholy, suffer tragically at the hands of the ciderdrinkers.

The hidden world of the avenue unfolds to Francis as he emerges from behind the covers of books (he works as the local librarian) – the haven where he had ensconced himself since his mother’s death. Who is Myrtle, his wife? (Does she genuinely go to bingo every Tuesday night?). He does not know her. Who are the real parents of Freddy? Who was the neighbour whose car killed Francis’ mother? Raw suburban truths are exposed as Francis, with the help of the local children, slowly unravels the secrets of the avenue.

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Some reviews of The Avenue:

“James Lawless has a mighty thoughtful and penetrating capacity to make you gasp and rage and then burst out laughing: wheels within wheels, circles within circles, this book is very good.”
Jennifer Johnston

“A work of passion and truth, which captures a moment of painful transition in the national story. If a multicultural England has drawn a map of itself in Brick Lane, so has a postmodern Ireland traced its past and present in The Avenue. James Lawless has revealed with indignation and art, yet another Hidden Ireland beyond the imaginings of our ancestors.”
Declan Kiberd

“Stuck in a council house with an aggressive, sneering wife and her best friend for bad company, Franky Copeland is lonely. He has developed an easy rapport with the kids who spend their days booting footballs into his garden, but everything changes when one of them is killed after being threatened by one of the estate’s cider-drinking loons. Franky soon finds himself drawn into a web of spite and malice, entangling the lithe exhibitionist from across the street, the dead boy’s father and even his wife and her willing accomplice. As much a critique of social ills and suburban decay as a tale of community angst in the areas left behind by the boom, this is a powerful, emotive work from Dublin-born author James Lawless, who has been shortlisted for a Hennessy and WOW award this year. With a seamless narrative and engaging, pacy plot, this book comes recommended.”

Julian Fleming in The Sunday Business Post, 24-04-10.


Book Review by Roslyn Fuller – The Avenue By James Lawless (Wordsonthestreet)

Last update – Saturday, October 15, 2011, 10:03 By Metro Éireann

Franky, a shy thirty- or forty-something librarian, has spent his entire life on ‘The Avenue’, somewhere presumably in a less affluent part of Dublin. Having devoted his younger years to caring for his depressed father, Franky married young to the older Myrtle to avoid the scandal of a child born out of wedlock, and has shuffled along ever since, engaged in retiring activities like gardening and reading.

But when a set of go-go dancers comes to the local pub and Franky discovers a wad of heroin stuffed inside a soccer ball, things begin to change. He must defeat the evil cider-drinkers terrorising the neighbourhood, liberate the go-go dancers from their pimps, find out whatever happened to his and Myrtle’s miscarried child, help his assistant librarian find true love, and free himself from Myrtle and her evil cohort Ida.
This is an extremely localised story, in which the miserable lives of The Avenue’s inhabitants are exposed. I found the relationships between men and women most striking, with women near universally being portrayed as aggressive (man-hating lesbians Ida and Myrtle), deceitful (go-go dancer Judy and her drug-dealing mother), or cynical nymphomaniacs (terminally-ill Noreen).
The men, on the other hand, tend to come across as the helpless victims of feminine wiles: Franky’s father and one of his neighbours completely unable to cope with the deaths of their wives; the assistant librarian Michael naively caught in Judy’s toils; and Franky himself trapped in endless servitude to Myrtle.
It’s as if the men, unable to deal with life, have handed control to the women who either fail to take them into any further consideration, or ultimately abandon them through death.
I have observed this underlying hostility between the genders in Ireland for many years, and it was interesting to see it come through in a novel. Of course, Franky ultimately finds his backbone, turning a tale that is otherwise grim ultimately triumphal.
The Avenue is a very well written and well-produced novel, steering clear of both misery memoir and nostalgic glorification, and the narrator Franky has an utterly credible voice. It was pretty page-turning and struck me as a much better portrayal of Irish life in transition from traditional to modern than many a more self-consciously reminiscent tale.
If you want to see the world your Irish contemporaries are coming from, you really could do a lot worse than The Avenue. I’d be inclined to take it over many a celebrated bestseller.

Reviews from Amazon

5.0 out of 5 stars I love a novel that approaches a different theme – and this one does it for me,J
This review is from: The Avenue (Kindle Edition)

“Without going in to detail about the story line too much, what James Lawless has done with this literary piece it to put in to sharp focus the perception and realities of life and surroundings in suburban lifestyles compared to those of the inner cities. As you read, you will discover what the reality is and it is not the reality many people thought it would be before moving out of the city in to such a ‘better’ location.

The main character, Francis, is caught up in a marriage that has not died but has lost so much meaning as his wife’s mental state has changed over the years, becoming mean and withdrawn. His existence with her has become miserable to the point where the only way he sees as an escape is through stories and books, and being a librarian he has more than adequate escape routes at his disposal. In turn this helps to create an imaginary life and world inside his mind.

The writing is sublime and really does get the point across that the grass is not always greener on the other side and it sometimes takes a little more to find the life you dream about. It is a scary truth though and you may be surprised, even a little disturbed with how accurately some of was depicted here relates to you and your close environment.

It also serves as a good reminder of how frail the human mind can be under certain circumstances and to me it was quite chilling in parts and Francis became a character that I could easily empathize with.

Top marks for wonderfully written novel with a slightly different topic from the “standard” mainstream novels, although it is a main-stream novel in its own right.”

5.0 out of 5 stars City or Suburb Life Makes Little Difference,

By stern0See all my reviews

This review is from: The Avenue (Paperback)

“In James Lawless’ The Avenue, the differences in the mores between city and suburban life are explored through the use of weak men and strong women. The poor pathetic hero of the piece, library Francis Copeland, is haunted by a virago of a wife who was once a temptress but is now a shadow of herself, sunken into meanness by her own shrewishness. She and her friend Myrtle are constantly on the poor schlep who is also the “hero” of the piece.

His only escape is books and stories and to get away from the woman who is now making his life a misery he reads incessantly, often living in the worlds inside his head.

How different the city and the suburbs with their trees and open windows and young women, the husband think as he views a young women getting ready for a date or bed or something. She’s not dressed in much and our tortured husband finds that he has to live in the land of his mind again, just to get away.

That, perhaps most of all, in this beautifully written book, shows that while folks believe that the suburbs and suburban life, where the husband and wife end up, aren’t much different than city life. It’s just that the yards are bigger.”

5.0 out of 5 stars The Avenue,

By CCSee all my reviews

Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: The Avenue (Kindle Edition)

“In a blog on suburbia James Lawless tell us his novel The Avenue represents a response to the myth of suburbia as a panacea for the ills of society. Lots of families, including his own, in the fifties moved from the inner city to what was thought would be the Shangri-la of the suburbs. However, in moving, people unwittingly left behind a world with a strong community spirit for an anonymous sprawl where social interaction was often at a minimum. Although this gripping novel may be read as a picture of suburban degeneration, it is paralleled, despite the calamities, by a highly emotive story of human regeneration, particularly in the characters of the librarian Francis and his assistant Michael and even – almost contradictorily – Francis’ ailing father. Lawless says his intention was ‘to use the avenue as a trawling device to pierce the anonymity of a waste land and discover the people who lived there.’ In this beautifully written novel he succeeds with, at times, terrifying accuracy.”


By alien. Format:Kindle Edition

“What would you do to escape life living in a marriage that has now turned sour with your wife very different from what she was in the years before? The protagonist, Francis turns to books. Books have been his refuge since a long time now, ever since he lost his mother in an accident as a young boy.`The Avenue’ explores life in the suburbs and does so very well. Francis is a middle aged librarian whose marriage is down in the dumps. While trying to escape the pressure of it all, he drowns himself in books and also befriends the children of the avenue. His friendship with a boy named Freddy is his most cherished.James Lawless has done a good job of taking the readers through the story with his own unique style that is pleasant to read and still interesting all at the same time. I found the parts on life in suburbs some of the most interesting in the book. It has an element of truth in it and manages to keep the reader turning the pages.As the story unfolds, Francis learns many things about life in the avenue, the many secrets of the suburbs and a few secrets of his own life! It could be about his wife, his family, his little friend Freddy, or even about his own past! I do not want to spoil it for you, so pick it up yourself and read this book, which I think is one of the best ones I have read in quite some time.”
5.0 out of 5 stars A trip to the Other Side 18 Jan 2013 By Sara Hadi – Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
“Don’t you just love a story that comes with the word ‘secret’ in its description? Well, I do, and I’m just one of those people who cannot resist such a read. Nowadays, when just about everyone thinks they can write a good novel–and what’s worse it gets published too!–it gets extremely difficult to choose something new and good to read.That said, I cannot recommend The Avenue by Lawless enough. Everyone who is tired of and I mean sick-tired, reading the same mundane stories should give this novel a try. I wouldn’t say it touches an entirely off-track topic to dub it atypical, but it certainly is one that makes you raise your eyebrow.Following the thought patterns of a middle-aged Francis Copeland, librarian by profession and a genuine humble guy by nature, the book is basically narrated from his point of view, and how he sees the world around him and reacts to the happenings interfering with his daily life in a suburban environment. It is quite interesting to see how he manages to find an escape from a seemingly dull and repetitive life by creating a world of his own through reading books and inventing a world of his own. You cannot call him a manic though, because he’s drawn a firm line between his fantasy world and real life.Life’s choices are never presented to you in a silver platter, what you see and what really is, is like two sides of the same coin. James Lawless has portrayed this concept remarkably well in this novel. I loved reading The Avenue, and I loved getting to know the people living there through the mind of Francis Copeland.”
‘I find this book interesting mainly because I am fond of
secrets. And judging by its summary, there are said to be secrets that are yet
to be discovered by the main character named Francis Copeland. I find Francis as
a lonely, restricted and unlucky man because of what had happened to his
marriage. Having no child at all, life must have been hard for him. Francis was
never a people person, he has lived his life behind books for a long time but as
he started to befriend the children in the avenue his life was never the same
again. Sometimes, some realities are not as pleasing as what we think they are.
And it’s how we handle those kinds of realities that matter in the end. James
Lawless has portrayed this concept remarkably well in this novel.’
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
This review is from: The Avenue (Paperback)

“The Avenue” by James Lawless tell the story of Francis Copeland who is childless and in the middle of a stale marriage. Exploring life in the suburbs of Ireland, this story had me from the start. The writing style is colorful and descriptive and with striking details, the reader watches as Francis, (who works in the local library) with the help of the local children reveals the secrets of the avenue through books.


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