Another Irishman’s reimagining of classical epic’some 75 years after Joyce’s Ulysses—gives impressive depth and pathos to this first novel from the versatile writer best known for his recent play The Steward of Christendom. Barry’s eponymous hero is “exiled” from his home in Sligo when a passion for the culture of his beloved France inspires him to enlist in the British Merchant Navy (in 1916). But Eneas is shipped instead to Galveston, Texas, and his disillusionment increases when he returns to Sligo to a traitor’s welcome. Making matters worse, he joins the Royal Irish Constabulary and is subsequently marked for execution by his homeland’s revolutionaries, one of whom—his boyhood friend Jonno Lynch—dedicates himself to pursuing the vagrant Eneas. The elusive wanderer’s travels then take him to England, France at last (where he literally labors in vineyards), furtively back home to visit his subdued (though still loving) parents and sister Teasy (now a cloistered nun), and, most interestingly, to Nigeria as another World War looms. But Lagos—as Eneas ruefully notes, a near anagram of “Sligo——is also haunted by “Deathly, killing, seducing politics,” though there is the lifelong friendship Eneas forms with Harcourt, an epileptic native Nigerian with whom he’ll eventually be reunited when at last, in his 70th year, he returns to Sligo to await the carrying-out of the sentence pronounced on him decades before. Eneas’s story, which climaxes with a surprising fulfillment of the violent fate he has long expected, is crowned by a complex and honestly earned vision of “redemption.” And Barry tells it in a gorgeous, mellifluous rush of passionate language that often alludes specifically to Virgil’s Aeneid (it’s especially tempting to view Harcourt as a male counterpart of Aeneas’ beloved Carthaginian queen Dido) while accommodating both magnificent invective (“You low dog on all fours, you poor fighting pup with your tail bitten off by a tinker at birth”) and sorrowfully lyrical meditations on the ruin of Eneas’ country and people. One of the best novels out of Ireland in many a year.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-670-87828-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998


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