Like Evelyn Waugh, Amis knows how to sharpen his comedy by a deadpan delivery. Like Waugh too, he is adept at pressing the narrative towards the monstrous, surreal and grotesque while remaining just on this side of the border between realism and fantasy. It is a vein of satire to which the faintest whiff of genuine human sentiment or moral attitudinising is fatal.
Yet differences also stand out. In Northern Ireland Catholic political disaffection was reinforced by material inequality. Protestant alienation from the southern state’s Catholic ethos was mitigated by a relatively strong position in commercial and professional life.
John Butler Yeats recognised in Joyce “an intense feeling for what is actual and true” and saw that “[t]he whole movement against Joyce and his terrible veracity, naked and unashamed, has its origin in the desire of people to live comfortably, and, that they may live comfortably, to live superficially”.
Ford’s narrators get into our ears. A master of first person narrative, he creates observers who are lyrical and philosophical yet confused; situated outside the principal action but profoundly affected by it; urged on by a desire for engagement with life but consistently puzzled by and fearful of the world’s random give and take. The lilt and tone and hesitancy of these voices lure us into their owners’ lives.
Hemingway himself describes the events to his family several weeks later, although in retrospect he would admit not remembering what had happened: “The 227 wounds I got from the trench mortar didn’t hurt a bit at the time, only my feet felt like I had rubber boots full of water on … I kind of collapsed at the dug out. The Italian I had with me had bled all over my coat and my pants looked like somebody had made current jelly in them and then punched holes to let the pulp out.
Citing mostly late nineteenth century and early/mid-twentieth century clinicians, he argues that there are only three mutually exclusive pathological mental structures: neurosis, psychosis and perversion. The difference between neurosis and psychosis lies in the degree of certainty with which beliefs are held by the patient. Neurotics tend to doubt, psychotics are more certain.
This equation of the county with mindless violence and chaos has long since been forgotten, and Tipperary has become one of the most respectable of Irish counties, because qualities which Victorian commentators asserted were intrinsic to the Irish character were not but had their origin in the landlord-tenant relationship and faded with the waning of landlord power.
Casement’s achievement was to observe and to testify, proving that the gross myths and exaggerations reaching Europe about these places were not gross myths and exaggerations at all. There is some irony in that. The cruelty which this novel underlines is that the life of Roger Casement – a great documentarian, a man who exposed atrocious truths – was to become forever synonymous with myth and distortion.
In 1920, as again in 1970, the British constitution shattered in Ireland, where servants of the Crown resorted to extra-legal means –torture, reprisal, murder to restore order. It is only by understanding those contexts that we begin to make sense of, as opposed to describing, the terrors accompanying collapses. The victims’ stories are always heartrending and should be explored. But devoid of context, biographies say little that is historical, as opposed to newsworthy.
The casting of John Redmond in the role of scapegoat was not without functional advantage in Irish politics. That partition could in some degree be treated as a fait accompli for which responsibility rested with the Irish party in a limited but crucial degree defused the issue in domestic Irish politics. It must be considered to have assisted pro-Treaty Sinn Féin to persuade a majority of the Irish people to accept the Treaty in 1922. The price was a strain of evasion and disingenuousness in the politics of the independent Irish state in relation to the basis for partition and in attitudes towards the Northern Ireland state.