A deft, funny, and ultimately quite moving debut about the strenuous and determined efforts of a young Irish aristocrat to evade all contact with the real world.
Beneath a thick veneer of upper-class insouciance, Charles Hythloday is beset with problems on every side. He’s a world-class drunk, a university dropout, an involuntary celibate, a spendthrift, a dreamer, and a great big baby. He’s also on the verge of bankruptcy, a fact that he prefers to ignore but is being forced, slowly and reluctantly, to confront. The son of a cosmetics mogul who died a few years back and left his family a mountain of debt administered by a shady offshore bank, Charles (now 24) has never had a job and spends his days and nights roaming the house and grounds of his ancestral estate outside Dublin, methodically drinking the cellar dry and watching old Gene Tierney movies on TCM. His sister Bel has recently finished acting school and intrudes upon Charles’s arcadia by bringing home a succession of boorish young men whose unfathomable accents and indescribable attire provide vivid proof of the depth of her nostalgie de la boue. Her latest beau, a junk dealer named Frank, arrives on the scene just as a succession of household objects begins to disappear on an almost daily basis. His suspicions aroused, Charles hires a private detective (actually, he’s just a drunken postman) to set a trap for Frank—but the truth turns out to be stranger and more horrible than Charles had imagined. Eventually, Charles is forced to leave his little Brideshead and make his way in the world—which turns out to be just as appalling as he feared. For Bel, the consequences of her family’s decline are different but even more tragic. Modern Ireland, in Murray’s telling, would seem to have little room for grace or beauty—but, then again, Yeats was making the same complaint in 1916.
Riotously funny from the start, the sharp edge of the author’s satire turns this tale into something very different from comedy by the end and reveals Murray as a master of narrative sleight of hand.