A CHANGE OF SCENE by Elizabeth Cullinan
Kirkus Star

A CHANGE OF SCENE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The grave undertones of Cullinan's glittering House of Gold (1970) have lightened, have become more fleeting and oblique--in her recent New Yorker stories and in this novel (a long short story, really) about a young Irish-American woman's change of scene to Ireland. ""To be completely beautiful, things must have an element of the habitual."" So Ann Clarke journeys away from contaminating family troubles in N.Y. to Ireland--to live a ""Dublin life."" And once there Ann awaits, as a stranger, admission to some congenial circle, some clustering fellowship of her own sort. She doesn't find it at first--not at Trinity College. But then, with Irish journalist Tomás, Ann is drawn into Dublin's ""tide of drink and palaver,"" the circulating pub gang--""excitingly authentic and dangerously careless,"" the Ireland of singers, scholars, poets. Still, though this group is curiously cohesive in demonstrations of national pride, Ann notices ""the absence of real bonds among the people"" at pub-gang parties. And though Ann is oddly happy in her tiny, tacky bedsit, making fresh, bright friends (housemate Dinah and her chum Molly, novelist Oona and her three daughters), she realizes that she won't ""get a grip on Ireland"" through Tomás; he's neither serious nor personal, with his real self lost in the group's mirror-imagery. So there'll be other men: Michael, who (like all men that appeal to Ann) is ""complicated, cranky, unsettled""; librarian Jim--humble, primitive, gallant, impossible to love. And when Ann's unpleasantly capricious landlady forces her to move--to a better apartment--she seems to lose her ""frame of reference,"" with all her relationships altered. Dinah and Molly become tentative. Ann worries that she's becoming a distracting intrusion in Oona's family life. Thus, after another kind of dispossession--a bizarre episode with a lascivious priest--Ann returns home, though still claiming vivid memories of Ireland's ""Garden of Delights"" (an amusing superimposition of Bosch on a Dublin park); and when Tomás comes to N.Y.--as innocent as Ann was in his city-she admits him to her neighborhood with a Dubliner's shrewd skepticism: ""I had an agreeable sense of exertion, as if we were rowing towards each other. . . ."" Motionless on the surface, deeply active underneath --a fine tale rich with insights and immaculate prose.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1982
Publisher: Norton