The part of the book in which it becomes clear why it has the name it has: progress report on Sebastian Barry’s The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty

eneas mcnulty cover

When last we spoke, Eneas McNulty had run from Ireland under pain of death from the IRA militants in his hometown of Sligo.  Part Two details what he does after he leaves.  I feel like Barry takes some liberties with time here.  All of a sudden Eneas is fighting in World War II, and it seemed like just a few pages ago he was in Galveston, Texas during The Great War.  Time moves quickly in Barry’s fiction, and that’s not a complaint, only an observation.  It doesn’t help matters that I didn’t pick it up for a few days in the middle of reading this section, so I had kind of forgotten what was going on when I picked it up again.

This part of the novel is very episodic.  Eneas works as a herring fisherman in the North Atlantic Ocean!  Eneas goes to fight for England in France!  Eneas goes AWOL and helps a Frenchman rebuild his farm!  Eneas goes to a VA hospital in England!  Eneas goes home to Ireland!  Eneas goes to Nigeria to dig a ditch!  It’s really kind of sad and lonely.  Eneas doesn’t seem to make any significant connections with anyone, and when he finally returns home, those people haven’t forgotten about him.  He bleakly hopes that maybe the death sentence will have been forgotten after twenty years away, but the Irish never forget anything (believe me, I know whereof I speak).  My desire to call Eneas “Poor Eneas” continues in this part of the novel.  When I started this paragraph I had a little bit of Part Two to go, and while Eneas is in Nigeria, he actually makes a friend, a Nigerian man named Harcourt.  Harcourt is on the ditch crew with Eneas, and they form a friendship.  When Harcourt is kicked off the work crew because he is epileptic and has a seizure while working, Eneas goes with him back to the city of Lagos.  Now this part is happier, because Eneas finally has a friend, but also sad, because the two of them hang around in Lagos for eight years, and drink, and drink, and drink, and don’t work, and often sleep outdoors.  I suppose one could say that they’re drunken bums.  But that’s depressing, so I don’t really want to say that.  The Nigerian army tries to press-gang Harcourt into service, and he disappears.  At the end of Part Two, Eneas is onboard a ship, heading back to England

My major regret in my reading of this book is that it took me so long to get to it after reading The Secret Scripture.  Part Two gives us a third person limited perspective of Eneas’ meeting with Roseanne McNulty.  I don’t remember it going down the same way when Roseanne tells us about it in her book.  But, as Barry himself says, “time is a dark puzzle, certainly (138),” even when it comes to remembering important parts of books read a little over a year ago.  I remember raining and darkness, and maybe Eneas helped Roseanne deliver her baby.  Or maybe this was another fellow.  But none of this is mentioned in The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, so maybe I’m confused.  I’ve been trolling the internet trying to find a detailed plot summary of The Secret Scripture, but none has been forthcoming as of yet.  And I don’t own the book, or this would be pretty easy to figure out.  (This, friends, is why I used to never borrow books from anyone.)  I considered buying it for my Kindle, since “my” Kindle usually lives with my mom and we are on vacation with my parents, but when I was fussing about this on Thursday night they were already in bed, and my mom probably had “my” Kindle under her pillow.  She uses it to play Sudoku, mostly, and also to read what she refers to as “trash novels.”  Someday I’ll write about my mom bequeathing me my love of reading, but not now.  Now, we talk about Poor Eneas McNulty.

Like I said a couple of paragraphs ago, I just feel so sorry for Eneas: no family, no friends, no home.  When he finally makes a friend that relationship disintegrates too, through no fault of his own or Harcourt’s.  I know Irish novels aren’t known for their warm good feelings and happiness.  What amazes me about this story is that it’s so damn depressing, I know it’s going to continue to be damn depressing, but I can’t help hoping that in Part Three Eneas will find a good job and a nice girl, settle down, and get to return home to Sligo to live out his days with his family.  I know none of this happens because I accidentally read a plot summary while I was hunting for information about The Secret Scripture online on Thursday night.  But I care about Eneas, and I want him to find some measure of happiness, however small, before I get to the end of his story.  And that’s something that the Irish, or Barry, at least, excels at: writing these characters who can’t win at anything, but who the reader can’t help but root for.  Or I can’t help it, at least.

This entry was posted in Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Jill, Sebastian Barry. Bookmark the permalink.

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