I adored this book. I found it absolutely fascinating. The story begins with two friends, Frankie and Gypo, former political activists, meeting in a pub. Both have been kicked out of their political organization for their role in an assassination 6 months prior, and Frankie is also wanted by the police. They meet, and then Gypo goes to the police and tells them where to find Frankie in exchange for a reward. He then realizes what he has done - he has turned informer, the lowest of the low. He is terrified that someone will find out. Meanwhile, the organization is horrified that someone has informed, and delegates Gypo to figure out who, offering to reinstate him as a member if he succeeds. I don’t want to give away too much, because really, it’s a tremendous book that everyone ought to read.
What makes the book so fascinating, to me, is that it’s like a massive case of mistaken identity. Everyone is trying to figure out who the informer could be. There’s a way in which ‘informer’ is a type of identity, and everyone is trying to figure out who fits the type. Including Gypo himself, who is passionately devoted to the organization, and certainly doesn’t identify himself as an informer. The point is, Gypo did not “turn informer” – he never assumed that identity. Rather, the action was a kind of curious mistake – “A monstrous idea had strayed into his head like an uncouth beast from a wilderness into a civilized place”. In a curious way, the story originates in a sort of bizarre narrative mistake, a glitch that has thrown everything into disarray.
Gypo is an incredible protagonist. He’s somehow only half-conscious, dull-witted, slow, dog-like in his devotions and dislikes. You don’t get much of a glimpse into his head, because there’s just not much there. He doesn’t feel hollow; you have the sense that his thoughts are like ants swimming through molasses. He’s a complete idiot, and completely guileless. He has no ability to calculate; for instance, he spends his reward money all over Dublin, and seems completely powerless to control himself in any way. It is this total lack of scheming that makes him so sympathetic – he’s completely genuine, all the time. The fact everyone is deceived by him seems to stem somehow from the fact that nobody thinks of him as capable of such deception – which he’s really not.
It’s a fantastic read – highly recommended. A real joy.