Sean's brother Anthony is a hard man. When they were kids their ma did her best to keep him out of trouble, but you can't say anything to Anto. Sean was supposed to be different. He was supposed to leave and never come back. But Sean does come back. Arriving home after university, he finds Anthony's drinking is worse than ever. Meanwhile, the jobs in Belfast have vanished, Sean's degree isn't worth the paper it's written on, and no one will give him the time of day. One night he loses control and assaults a stranger at a party, and everything is tipped into chaos.
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.