THE SALESMAN by Joseph O’Connor

THE SALESMAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An astringent view of crime and punishment, Irish style, as seen through the eyes of a grieving father who’s coming unraveled. Billy Sweeney, a salesman burdened by a long record of failures and disappointments, including an unsatisfying career and a now-empty marriage, finally finds something on which to focus his frustrated energies. Four thugs have beaten his daughter, the most outspoken and resilient of his grown children, into a coma. While one bully’s been taken into custody, another—Donal Quinn—escapes, disappearing into the seedy back-streets of Dublin. Sweeney decides that since the law has failed so spectacularly to secure justice, he’ll finish the job himself, tracking Quinn down and killing him. The narrative consists of Sweeney’s journals; he compulsively sets down every detail of his search, as well as lengthy recollections of his early life, children, and marriage. And he addresses the journals to his stricken daughter: they serve both to justify his actions and to explore, for her benefit and his own, the seemingly mysterious ways in which his life has gone wrong. Along the way, O’Connor, novelist (Cowboys and Indians, 1992, etc.) and acerbic commentator (Sweet Liberty: Travels in Irish America, 1996, etc.), also weaves into the narrative a sharp, unsparing reflection on modern Ireland. The Dublin through which Sweeney moves is a rather anarchic place: family bonds count for far more than the law, and violent men still rule. His pursuit of Quinn brings him into contact with a violent underworld, and his stubborn persistence in his search precipitates a violent ending. O’Connor manages to keep the specifics fresh in what might otherwise seem a routine tale: Sweeney develops rather complex feelings about Quinn in learning more about his damaged life. And there’s a nice play of unforced symbolism here. Sweeney’s an Irish Everyman. His quest echoes, mordantly, that of Joyce’s Ulysses. A deft, often angry, and moving portrait of the complexities of loss and vengeance. (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-19998-8
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999




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