THE BARRACKS by John McCahern


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In northwestern Ireland, many men lead lives of quiet desperation as they do here in this novel which sometimes gives way to the inertia of their hopeless circumstances. The novel's quiet, casual accumulation of detail of place and characters is impressive, as is its vulgar Irish dialogue, but the author's method of gradual and careful narration becomes soporific. Elizabeth Reegan, a former nurse now in her late thirties and childless, marries a widower police sergeant with three children and goes to live in the police barracks. The three other families in the barracks are even duller than Elizabeth's. She finds her spirit deteriorating in the drudgery and hermetic routine. The barracks founders while her illtempered husband goes off turf-gathering in the beg, Elizabeth discovers she has breast cancer and this incurable situation destroys her last fibre. After a series of heart attacks, she lies abed turning waspish and neurotic with the pointlessness of her life. Nor does the author lend her a final, gratuitous illumination or clue to life's purpose. She dies as dully and dispiritedly as the barracks background permits. The death scene is very well done, so is the novel generally, but Elizabeth's interior analysis of her life occasionally slips from the meaningful into the sudsy. For quiet, desperate readers.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1964
Publisher: Macmillan