Magee’s yarn unspools like a story told over a couple of pints. The result is an intimate, dizzying onslaught that highlights the contrast between fear and joy, love and hate ... A dark but illuminating portrait of Belfast, painted by a man who knows the lads, the bars, the bookstores and back alleys that litter his birthplace. Some may read the book in relation to other Irish coming-of-age stories, but to me, this poignant, no-frills work brings to mind the late Mississippi writer Larry Brown — another author who wrote about home and believed that art could save it.
Deftly captures the spirit of these times. Like Rooney, Magee explores the world of a literary-minded 20-something navigating the distinctions of class in an affecting story of self-discovery. But his voice is wholly his own: unflinching, direct, disarmingly sensitive and informed by his own experiences as a young man in the working class Belfast neighborhood of Twinbrook ... Magee creates a strong sense of place with his prose, which is rife with local color and makes liberal use of Belfast slang ... The effect is immersive. Magee makes you feel like one of the gang, and the feeling of belonging he creates is intoxicating ... Magee succeeds in bringing his neighborhood to life for readers and suggests that amid what seems like a never ending struggle, there is always room for hope.
The novel as described—both a vexed homecoming tale and a young writer’s coming-of-age story—sounds identical to 50 other debuts that will be published this year. The difference is in the execution. Close to Home is a novel about the vulnerability of youth that feels altogether adult. The fragility and neediness that define most autobiographical first-person novels are absent here, replaced by a voice that is poised, colorful yet direct and confident of the worth of what it has to relate ... Refreshingly excellent.
Taut and impressive ... If all of that sounds heavy, it’s because it is. There is no light relief here. Close to Home is a book of premature tiredness, emotional repression and the halting and heavy-handed ways we might try to love one another regardless. The novel is relatively short on plot...but remains gripping due to its unfaltering and deftly executed commitment to psychological empathy. Magee writes tenderness with serious skill ... There are occasional missteps. The first few chapters are littered with the type of self-correcting prose...that so often characterises a writer in the process of finding their feet. And elsewhere, Magee sometimes reaches for slightly obvious gestures of sociocultural standing ... But these are niggles, and do little to diminish the overall effect of what is ultimately a staggeringly humane and tender evocation of class, violence and the challenge of belonging in a world that seems designed to keep you watching from the sidelines.
Very much a working-class novel, in the sense of a novel that takes working-class representation seriously. But it is many other things too: an Irish novel, a Bildungsroman, a novel about the self-congratulatory failures of Northern Ireland’s political elite ... Perhaps the novel’s chief strength is its sharp deconstruction of toxic masculinity. Throughout the novel Sean is haunted by an assault he committed on a night out, and, in his belated rejection of machismo’s self-annihilating ideal, he comes to learn that happiness can be achieved through tenderness and the pursuit of creativity.
Sidesteps many common pitfalls plaguing debuts. Avoiding the solipsism that risks infecting in a first-person coming-of-age story, Magee’s secondary characters are fully fleshed out ... The book’s themes – masculinity, class and history – don’t offer easy resolutions. Instead, Magee deftly conveys the anxieties of a generation facing an uncertain future.
Although the setting and elements — alcohol, poverty, sexual abuse — recall [Douglas] Stuart, Magee is his own man in his restrained approach. This includes a refusal to deliver on expectations — where, say, a rapprochement with Sean’s estranged sister seems likely — and while this denial of the traditional satisfactions of fiction is in one sense admirable, it becomes frustrating as the novel persists ... There’s enough life here that I wanted to keep reading and not just, I think, because of the rare comfort of seeing the city where I live and the language it speaks...on the page. I took Sean to my heart and the last line of the book left me with a satisfying shiver. So Close to Home is not perfect, but it’s worth reading and I suspect Magee’s next book will be worth reading more.
A stunning, devastating portrait of masculinity ... A novel with considerable depth and emotional heft, as raucous partying and cocaine binges quickly transform into moments of real sentiment ... His dazzling, colloquial prose leads to moments of real humor and lucidity that transcend the novel’s bleak atmosphere.
A consummate and searching bildungsroman ... His strongest achievement is in the sensitive portrait of Sean, who doesn’t want to lie to himself and eventually works up to the truth. Readers won’t want this to end.