11 August 2009

The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, by Sebastian Barry

This is the first Sebastian Barry book I've read, but I must say, his prose is wonderful. Sparkling, lively, evocative, lots of wonderful descriptions, and generally quite entertaining.

The content doesn't quite live up to the style, I think. Or maybe I'm just being snippy, I dunno. But I almost want to say that there's something too lighthearted and good-natured about the book. Even when it's describing something utterly horrific, it's strangely cheerful.

Also, the book treats history and politics with a rather broad stroke. There's a real underlying bitterness about the violence of the IRA and the coercive nature of nationalism that is perhaps not unwarranted, but it stridently ignores the other side of the story. I suppose maybe that's a worthwhile aspect, to give the other (Irish) side of the story, but I couldn't help but feel a touch irked by it. Nonetheless, it does cover an interesting portion of history, and draws a vague though intriguing parallel between Irish and Nigerian liberation movements. I suppose its pessimism is a valiant corrective to the normal postcolonial ebullience.

Anyways, politics aside, as a story, it's entertaining and sympathetic. I'm not in a huge rush to read another Barry novel (I've got Long Way Home on my to-read shelf) but I did really enjoy the descriptive passages, especially the ones about sex. There's something wonderfully vibrant about the words he uses to describe things, it's really lovely.


Anonymous said...

Ha! I like your take on The Whereabouts of Enea McNulty...but I came to it through The Secret Scripture ( I have Annie Dunne and A Long Long Way but I haven't read them yet.

For me it was thrilling to read someone who seemed to be able to locate the 'unknown' as a valid experience (and only a beginning!). It was great to see how The Secret Scripture was woven into the Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty. The very word 'whereabouts' is such an appropriate word as it's vernacular, imprecise yet, like a charcoal sketch, a mark with integrity on how we begin to tell the stories we don't even realise, as children, are stories...we don't realise how much of our childish perceptions make up the functionining adults we think we are!

I loved them both as gentle, optimistic, loving, raggedy sketches of families predestined to be divided, yet, given the chance and the opportunity, so well able to excel and to shine.

culture_vulture said...

Thanks for the comment!
It's interesting that you saw the book in those terms - I didn't really pick up on that aspect. What you said though, does remind me of another book - Seamus Deane's Reading in the Dark - if you haven't read it, you should, it's an amazing book.