Saturday 11 March 2023

Review by Laurie Cusack of "T'ree Tins of Turpentine" by Tim O'Sullivan

O’Sullivan’s spare-bittersweet memoir has laugh-out-loud moments strewn all the way through it. The boozy opening anecdote is electrifying and helps set its visceral tone. Here is an underrepresented Irish diasporic working-class voice in full flow.

It is authentic and comes straight from the gut, which is a rare phenomenon indeed, methinks. Bravo.

Many of O’Sullivan’s recollections and experiences resonated more than once. The brutality meted out by school and family was the norm back then which haunts our PC world of today. Also, his faith and first holy communion are well realised  and struck a chord: I  felt the same reservations about the body of Christ and eating the wafer.

Moreover, his allusions to hooliganism, drugs and inner-city violence that were ever present in 1970s England are bang on. A scrap was never far away. 

Shoplifting in Lewis’s – what a joy!   

These remarkable warts-and-all remembrances of social deprivation are truly powerful, evocative, poignant and captivating. This is a brave text. Sometimes it’s easy to ignore the tiers of poverty that surround us, and that is why this rare text is an important empathetic reminder to us all about life, chance and circumstance: ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ His incarcerations speak volumes about the revolving door and institutionalisation and how chance can change a life. 

The period detailing is also spot-on: long-lost pubs and clubs like the Black Lion, The Longstop, The Churchill, Breni Inns, The George and Sloopy’s are in my memory bank. O’Sullivan’s text vividly captures the decades seamlessly as his chaotic life unfolds – no holds barred, until redemption and change kick-in.

There is a local buzz about this Leicester folklore of a book − I keep bumping into people who have read it or who are planning to.

A local delight!

About the reviewer
Laurie Cusack has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. His collection of short stories, The Mad Road, will be published by Roman Books in 2023. His story 'The Bottle and the Trowel' is published in the anthology High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories

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