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The Temporary Gentleman Hardcover – May 1, 2014
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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Much of Jack McNulty’s life has been lost in the fog of alcoholism. What he does remember, though, he sets down in writing from his quarters in mid-1950s Ghana, reviewing with regret his path through a troubled marriage and a war. Looking back at his younger self with affectionate pity, Jack unspools his relationship with the high-spirited Mai from its bright beginning through its descent into anger and blame. The book is the sixth in a series of separate but connected novels by Irish writer Barry. Jack is the brother of the title character in Barry’s debut novel, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998). Barry’s prose has a dreamlike quality, with stream-of-consciousness passages capturing the memory of wartime bombings. Although McNulty is not a man to be admired, the raw elegance of his storytelling has its own beauty. The Temporary Gentleman is an arresting account of self-deception and the power of will to pretend all is well, even as the bottom falls out. --Bridget Thoreson
Praise for The Temporary Gentleman:
“One of the best writers in the English language....[Barry’s] soul-wrenching narratives and incantatory prose...are powerful canvases of the human spirit.”—Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“Barry’s prose has a dreamlike quality....The raw elegance of his storytelling has its own beauty.”—Booklist
Praise for A Long Long Way:
“A deeply moving story of courage and fidelity.”—J. M. Coetzee, Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace
“Barry succeeds admirably in creating complex individuals who find themselves trapped in a brutal reality.”—Los Angeles Times
Praise for On Canaan's Side:
“Sebastian Barry's handling of voice and cadence is masterly. His fictional universe is filled with life, quiet truth and exquisite intimacy; it is also fully alert to the power and irony of history. In evoking Lilly Bere, he has created a most memorable character.”—Colm Tóibín, author of the Costa Novel Award-winning Brooklyn
“A story of love and loss, as Irish as the white heather and as big-hearted as America itself.”—Helen Simonson, New York Times bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
“A marvel of empathy and tact.”—Joseph O’Neill, author of the PEN/Faulkner Award winning novel Netherland
Praise for The Secret Scripture
“Prose of often startling beauty.”—Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
“Language of surpassing beauty….It is like a song, with all the pulse of the Irish language.”—The New York Times
“Luminous and lyrical.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
Praise for The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty:
“A symphony of a novel, and you’ll sing along and wander…into the next century.”—Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes
“[Barry’s] words have a stony allure of the Irish poets and the lyrical pull of an epic storyteller.”—The Boston Globe
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Top customer reviews
Jack McNulty is one of the most interesting fictional characters I've come across in a while. Born at the beginning of the 20th century, his life has revolved around Mary (Mai) Kirwan, a physically beautiful but emotionally fragile young woman, who he woos, weds, and then helps destroy. I wondered that if you idolise someone, as Jack did Mai, does that make communicating with that person difficult? Does it make seeing her emotional weaknesses impossible? Do you not want to admit the person you love so dearly has so many flaws: Certainly Jack had very little idea of how fragile Mai was when they courted. Her odd actions on their wedding day would seem to be a precursor of troubled times ahead. Jack was certainly warned by his mother and Mai's closest friend that Mai was "delicate". But warning does not always translate into awareness by the person being warned...
Jack McNulty was able to come and go after they were married. After an early stay in west Africa with Jack, Mai returned to Ireland to give birth to their older daughter. Jack stayed in Africa and then served in the British army in several engineering jobs. He was in Sligo for long periods of time, however, and managed to lose Mai's family home through indebtedness. But was that all Jack's fault? Certainly he had been dipping into the family kitty to pay his own bills and he had mortgaged the house, but many of the bills he was paying were Mai's for clothes and jewelry. Had Jack not loved Mai so much, would he have been able to talk to her about cutting down her spending? Would he have, in turn, cut down his own spending? From those early days, Mai's life was a series of disappointments that she dealt with by retreating into herself and into the bottle.
Part of the story takes place in the 1950's in Accra, Ghana, where Jack has retreated after Mai's death. His life there is certainly troubled, but Jack makes an attempt to understand what went wrong and what part he played, both in the death of a marriage and the death of a career. Jack is a man in great pain, and Sebastian Barry is not shy in pointing out why. "The Temporary Gentleman" is a quiet, yet powerful.
If you seek "happy ever after", don't buy this book. If you want one of the finest reads currently available in the English language, Sebastian Barry is your author.
The Temporary Gentleman is Jack McNulty, an unreliable narrator who is trying in 1957 to make sense of his life from Accra, where he suffers from malaria and from his lifelong battle with the bottle. He is attempting to honestly chronicle the missteps he has made in life, most notably those against his free spirited wife, Mai, who he virtually abandoned for great swaths of time both accountable and non-. Sligo will forever be homebase for the McNultys and their relatives, wherever they go, in this case, Jack's returns to Africa. Characters featured in former works make appearances, most notably Roseanne, whose story is central to The Sacred Scripture, and Jack's brother Eneas. I love the way this guy writes.