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The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty Hardcover – August 1, 1998


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

These days, Frank McCourt would seem to have cornered the market on lyrical depictions of Celtic poverty. But never fear, Sebastian Barry--the brilliant Irish playwright, poet, and prose-wrangler--is here. His new novel, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty recounts the odyssey of a small-town innocent, who grows up in circumstances more bucolic, but no less threadbare, than McCourt's. It's clear from the very first paragraph, however, that Barry means to take a wide-angle view of his Irish urchin: "In the middle of the lonesome town, at the back of John Street, in the third house from the end, there is a little room. For this small bracket in the long paragraph of the street's history, it belongs to Eneas McNulty. All about him the century has just begun, a century some of which he will endure, but none of which will belong to him."

Having handily survived his Sligo childhood, Eneas joins the British Army in time for World War I--and upon his return home, finds himself shunned as a collaborator. Tarred with this very Britannic brush, he goes one better and enlists in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Alas, this move only cements his fate as a marked man, and his father is soon issued a warning: "Let your son keep out of Sligo if he wants to keep his ability to walk." With a price on his head, Eneas commences a life of wandering, from Mexico to Africa to Nigeria (which the moonlight, he notices, "brings closer to Ireland.") From time to time he sneaks back to Sligo and is promptly expelled.

In another author's hands, this epic of dislocation could well be a bitter one. Yet the stoical and simple-minded Eneas is surprisingly free of anguish, and even his constant fear "has become something else, could he dare call it strength, a privacy anyhow." And the reader, at least, has the delightful distraction of Barry's prose, in which the occasional Joycean notes are entirely subsumed by the author's own colloquial brilliance. In the end, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty is less a novel than an exhibition of bardic fireworks--a latter-day Aeniad that's actually worthy of the name. --James Marcus

From Publishers Weekly

Known in England as a playwright (The Steward of Christendom), novelist and poet, Barry brings all the attendant skills to this stunning novel, with its evergreen theme of the parallels between a personal life and the political life of a country?in this case the fiery history of 20th century Ireland. Eneas McNulty is born in 1900 in Sligo, the eldest child of a dancing mother and a musician father. By the age of 10, he has forged a magnetic bond with his chum Jonno Lynch, an orphan and Eneas's lifelong opposite. WWI is the pivotal event in Eneas's life; he loses his footing and never regains it. Driven by a vague dream of fighting in French fields, he enlists in the British Merchant Navy and finds himself in Galveston, Tex., hauling machine parts. He returns home to find postwar Ireland in political turmoil and economic dire straits. Jonno, who has devoted himself to the "world of shillings and employment," won't acknowledge Eneas because of his connection to the British. After a jobless year, he signs up with the Royal Irish Constabulary, which cements the community's conviction that he's a British loyalist. To take his name off the "black list," Jonno and his crowd demand that Eneas become an assassin against the RIC. While Eneas doesn't fear his own death, he can't kill anyone else. And so his permanent exile begins. He works as a herring fisherman in the North Atlantic, joins the British army for WWII, digs a canal in Nigeria, opens a hotel for homeless veterans in London's Isle of Dogs. Eneas is in many ways an Everyman in this century of the migrant and the dispossessed, but Barry is careful to intersperse flashes of humor as well as moments of bone-deep longing in his protagonist's bleak odyssey. Work and the rare moments of fellow-feeling it produces are Eneas's solace as even his memories of home are salted with the menace of the men who've vowed to hunt him down. Barry's lyric prose, astute use of detail and poignant insight are a fit match for his tragic theme of an innocent buffeted by history.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (August 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670878286
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670878284
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His play, The Steward of Christendom, first produced in 1995, won many awards and has been seen around the world. His novel, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, appeared in 1998. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

Customer Reviews

Barry's language and prose capture his characters, the setting and their story perfectly.
Larry L. Looney
This was an extremely well written book the prose being very descriptive and poetic and there is a lot packed into the story.
Paul A. Barron
I was hesitant to read this book despite the recommendation of a friend and despite the accolades written here.
electra wilson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Richard Thurston on September 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
A beautiful, sad book. Eneas McNulty is an innocent set loose in a world treacherous and unforgiving but he remains gentle, kind and amazingly generous through all that befalls him. A fascinating look at 20th century Ireland through the eyes of a wonderfully realized character.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
This has to be the best novel written, at least in the English language, in the latter half of the 20th century, and I've read A LOT of the best books of this time period. It is simply amazing, and I'm not even going to give a word of it away in this review. It has everything that makes a novel good, but most striking is the sheer poetry of the language. An absolute masterpiece.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By electra wilson on April 18, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was hesitant to read this book despite the recommendation of a friend and despite the accolades written here. How foolish. Reading this book was like sinking into a great mattress. I was near hypnotized by the beauty of the text which simply flowed. At times I was so overcome that I had to put the book down, the sadness of it all is wrenching. But never is the book depressing or is it hateful while describing the hate that people so easily engender. This is an extraordinary work.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Larry L. Looney on September 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
...and sure, Mark Twain would likely love the hero of this wonderful book. Eneas is truly an innocent - he never shies from hard work, he loves his family dearly, and (his gift and his damnation) he has no neither mind nor care at all, at all for the politicks. He's not really a simpleton, merely a simple man. Born in 1900, he comes of age with the Irish struggle for independence so vividly painted by events such as the Easter uprising of 1916. When his mates - especially his best boyhood friend, Jonno Lynch - are enlisting in the fight to throw off the British oppression, Eneas, finding it difficult to locate gainful employment, enlists first in the British Merchant Navy (which in itself might have been forgiven by those who deemed themselves his judges later), then in the Royal Irish Constabulary. The RIC being mainly a police force, Eneas couldn't see the harm in lending a hand in that quarter - but as the fight for independence grew more fierce and factional, the RIC was tied too closely in the eyes of some to the hated Tans, who were responsible for some right bloody work. Eneas, finding himself on a blacklist kept by those calling themselves patriots, is given a choice - get close to and kill the much-hated and feared Reprisal Man of the Tans, or suffer the consequences of a death sentence. Our hero cannot bring himself to kill a man, so he refuses - and when he sees that those who have threatened him with extinction mean just what they say, sees no other choice than to flee his beloved Sligo and his native Ireland altogether.
Thus his adventures and travels begin. He signs on with a merchant vessel and winds up in Galveston, Texas. He enlists with the British Army for World War II in order to save France (a country for whom he bears a great love, of unknown origins) from Hitler.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
What a gift Sebastian Barry has given us all. --A remarkable book which seems to have pushed the language a little closer toward expresing feeling in words. The writer is a poet; his use of language has a transparent quality that make the poetry of life itself more apparent.
The title hints at a modern day Aenid, and indeed this Eneas wanders far and wearily, like his ancient counter-part. I wonder if Barry recognized the power of his own voice as he took up the linguistic legacy of Joyce, giving a nod to Ulysses in his text?
But as much as the language of the book is delightful, so too is the story. Barry has taken as his hero someone who has fallen on the wrong side of romantic history. The author does more than redeem Eneas's suffering, he very quietly requires the reader to re-think attitudes about the romantic and heroic aspects of war.
This book is certainly the finest piece of recently written prose I have come upon. I am extremely grateful to Sebastian Barry for sharing his gifts with us.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on September 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
The Irish have always been known as great storytellers, but now they're all turning into great writers as well, and it seems they're coming out of the woodwork. Sebastian Barry's The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty places the protagonist in the small village of Sligo where he is an innocent among angry partisans. When he chooses to alleviate his problems of employment by taking a job with the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British-led police force, he irrevocably alters his life - as you might imagine! With beautiful language and ethereal descriptive passages, Barry allows readers to follow Eneas' travels and travails - all of us hoping for a happy ending.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By L. D Sears on November 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
The best. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in Ireland this summer--my first trip there. It was an illuminating experience, to say the least. Ever since I have returned, I have absorbed myself in all things Irish. Sebastian Barry's book is by far the best of the lot--including the much overrated. A Star Call Henry. This is luminous prose, which tells the full range of modern Irish history more graciously than any book I have read on the subject--so far. Each year I pick a book of the year for myself and send it out for Xmas to selected friends. This is the winner for 2000--and the year is not even over. A must.
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