The Temporary Gentleman: Book summary and reviews of The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

The Temporary Gentleman

by Sebastian Barry

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry X
The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry
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  • Published in USA  May 2014
    320 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

In this highly anticipated new novel, Irishman Jack McNulty is a "temporary gentleman" - an Irishman whose commission in the British army in World War II was never permanent. Sitting in his lodgings in Accra, Ghana, in 1957, he's writing the story of his life with desperate urgency. He cannot take one step further without examining all the extraordinary events that he has seen. A lifetime of war and world travel - as a soldier in World War II, an engineer, a UN observer - has brought him to this point. But the memory that weighs heaviest on his heart is that of the beautiful Mai Kirwan, and their tempestuous, heartbreaking marriage. Mai was once the great beauty of Sligo, a magnetic yet unstable woman who, after sharing a life with Jack, gradually slipped from his grasp.
 
Award-winning author Sebastian Barry's The Temporary Gentleman is the sixth book in his cycle of separate yet interconnected novels that brilliantly reimagine characters from Barry's own family.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"With this complex portrait of a man rooted in his hometown but drawn into a wider warring world, Barry again proves himself a prose artist and a skilled navigator of the rocky shoals of modern morality and Irish heritage." - Publishers Weekly

"Barry's prose has a dreamlike quality...The raw elegance of his storytelling has its own beauty." - Booklist

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Cloggie Downunder

beautiful, sad, brilliant
“For myself, I could only wonder at her - was this a sort of evil borrowed from alcohol? I didn’t believe that in herself, in her heart and soul, she was a vicious woman. How is it that for some people drinking is a short-term loan on the spirit, but for others a heavy mortgage on the soul? How is it many a drinker becomes gay and light-hearted, but some so darkly morose and rescinded, filleted of every scrap of happiness, that they might beat their child in the snow?”

The Temporary Gentleman is the thirteenth novel by award-winning Irish author, Sebastian Barry, and his fifth work about the McNulty Family. Now in his mid-fifties, civil engineer and former UN observer, Jack McNulty sits in his rented house in Accra, Ghana, writing about his life in an old minute-book of the now-defunct Gold Coast Engineering and Bridge-Building Company, because “there is a lot to be said for writing things down. The fog gets pushed away, and the truth or some semblance of it stands stark and naked, not always a comfortable matter, no”

Now redundant in Ghana, Jack feels he should go back to Sligo, to what remains of his family, whose story he tells, interspersed with snippets of his life in Accra. While he includes his work in bomb disposal, engineering and as a diplomat, and his extended family, the overwhelming bulk of his account concerns the love of his life, the beautiful and popular Mai Kirwan, whom he met when studying engineering at college: “The waterfall of her black hair, the hat like a boat trying to weather it, her eyes dark in the dark carriage, not so much absent as deep, deep as a well, with the water a far coin below of brightness and blackness”

Readers familiar with Barry’s work will appreciate the mention of many characters recognisable from his other works about this family, although some have different names. A bit of background knowledge of the Troubles in Ireland is also helpful, as much of the novel is set against this background. As Jack finally admits his responsibility for certain heart-breaking events of his past, Barry adds another layer to the engrossing McNulty history.

Barry again succinctly comments about the devastating effect that the change of ruling party can have on those whose loyalties were seen to be with the “other” side: “What strange men were about the earth, after this half century of wars. Men who once were true, and their very trueness turned into betrayal, as the pages of history turn in the wind. Men who were vicious and oftentimes ruthless, turned into heroes and patriots. And a hundred shades and mixtures of both”

Readers are once again treated to the wonderful descriptive prose of which Barry is a master: “We could see the coast of Africa lying out along a minutely fidgeting shoreline. The only illuminations were the merry lights of the ship, and the sombre philosophical lights of God above. Otherwise the land ahead was favoured only by darkness, a confident brushstroke of rich, black ink” and “A lark, a single bird with her dowdy plumage, burst up from her cup of sand just in front of me and like a needle flashing in my mother’s hand of old made a long stitch between earth and heaven, with a joyousness that rent my heart” are just two examples. Both beautiful and sad, this is another brilliant read from Sebastian Barry.

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Author Information

Sebastian Barry Author Biography

Photo: Jerry Bauer

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955 and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Academically, he has held posts as an Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa (1984) and Writer Fellow at Trinity College, Dublin (1995-96). His early plays include Boss Grady's Boys (1990) and The Steward of Christendom (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998) and Hinterland (2002). Whistling Psyche (2004), and The Pride of Parnell Street (2007), are two interweaving monologues. His latest play is Tales of Ballycumber (2009).

Barry has also written poetry, including the collections The Water-Colourist (1983) and Fanny Hawke Goes to the Mainland Forever (1989); a novel for children, Elsewhere: the Adventures of Belemus (1985); and short novels, Time Out of Mind/Strappado Square (1983). His novels ...

... Full Biography

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