Set in the heart of Dublin, Patrick Osborne’s book When Your Number’s Up! follows the exploits of daydreamer Patrick Bridges, a man with a fragile grip on reality and a lack of understanding of the world beyond his small community.
Orphaned at a young age, garage attendant Patrick has a deep mistrust of hipsters and Lotto HQ, while his closest friends are a Goldfish named Jaws and a Venus flytrap.
Facing eviction, Patrick is waiting for luck or divine intervention to get him out of his impoverished predicament. Instead, fate brings him a devious landlord, a jobsworth of a boss and “gold-digging” ex-partner.
From the opening scene, where a nine-year-old Patrick flips out over a simple wooden puzzle, we see how he is unable to cope when faced with the smallest problem. His quick temper soon results in a run-in with his ex-partner’s current beau, and Patrick loses his job.
Patrick’s immediate response is to sell everything he owns and “go on the lash”. First thing to offload at the local pawnbrokers is his suit, “perfect save for a small tear” that “he’d plastered a bit of grey gaffer tape over”.
Drunk and depressed, our hapless protagonist meets a homeless man named Larry. While sharing a bottle of wine, an offhand remark from Larry unwittingly plants the seed for a get-rich-quick scheme. Patrick sets out to change his fortunes with the use of a Lotto machine in a local shop and a 420gm can of beans.
The author doesn’t delve too deeply when it comes to the emotive side of the characters but there is a cast of quirky players throughout. Larry, the homeless ex-business owner who isn’t short of advice. Tina, the outspoken shop assistant who offends everyone she meets. Patrick himself, a man obsessed with Abba who has an uncomfortably relaxed attitude to kidnapping.
Predominantly plot-driven, the author is fluid when it comes to using the perspectives of different characters in a scene to move the story forward. Unconventional in method, it briefly introduces characters like a milkman with a chip on his shoulder and a well-read bouncer who has a love of Steinbeck.
It also spins us into a subplot involving fellow Dubliner, Janice. Mother to two young kids, Janice’s husband has recently died, and she has been lumbered with all his debts.
Facing eviction, she relies on a money lender to get her out of the mess. Janice and Patrick’s paths cross at a cemetery, where a small-time drug dealer steals Janice’s bag. Little do they know, Patrick’s crazy scheming will have a major effect on both their lives.
The themes in the book reflect the concerns and gripes on the lips of a proportion of Dubliners today, and there are references to topical issues like the lack of housing, drug-related crime in the city, and loan sharks. But the book unapologetically weighs heavy toward the comedic side of the spectrum. A series of wacky situations are sewn together by Patrick’s idiotic decisions.
Assault. Kidnapping. Robbery. As each episode becomes more ludicrous, we gradually see how unhinged Patrick really is.
The book may not be aiming for dramatic intensity, but Osborne’s enthusiasm for this pocket of working-class Dublin is something that shines throughout, and the book is littered with familiar Dublinisms.
The weather is “brutal.” The tea is “scalding” and Tommy Kenny “the petrol station manager” is so cheap “he could peel an orange in his pocket with a boxing glove on”.
Strong on visuals, you could easily see these scenes playing out on the telly-box. What quickly becomes apparent is that Osborne is a writer who is thoroughly enjoying and having fun with the craft of writing.
The author’s previous work has been compared to Shameless and The Full Monty. When Your Number’s Up! certainly has hints of Brendan O’Carroll. Brimming with slapstick comedy and absurd plot, if you’re a fan of Mrs Brown’s Boys, this could be one to stick on your list.