Final Thoughts on Sebastian Barry’s The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty

eneas mcnulty coverIn Part Three Eneas finally gets some good news.  He returns to England and visits the War Office, where he learns that his pension has been collecting while he was in Nigeria.  He is a rich man with twelve hundred dollars.  He buys a suit.  He visits his sister Teasy in the convent, only to learn that she has cancer and will die soon.  He then catches a plane home to Ireland to see his family and runs into Jonno Lynch in the airport.  Jonno informs him that the sentence of death is still upon his head, though he shows no inclination to murder Eneas in the airport.  He visits his family, visits Roseanne McNulty who is now living in the Sligo mental hospital.  Then he goes back to England and buys a boarding house in the Isle of Dogs, a part of London where retired sailors always end up.  Harcourt tracks him down, and they run the boarding house together and are happy for a time.  Eventually, though, Eneas’ past comes back to haunt him and Jonno Lynch returns to finally kill him.  Unfortunately, Jonno brings an IRA apprentice with him, who accidentally shoots him rather than Eneas.  Eneas decides to fake his own death by leaving Jonno’s body in his bed and burning down the boarding house.  But Eneas thinks he hears Jonno calling out to him, and he runs back in to save him.  And dies.  But the last scene offers a bit of peace: “he rises in a fashion of immaculate peace and the fire does not harm him (305).”  He sees Teasy and visits his father’s old garden.  “And in bidding farewell to the lonesome earth, he knows suddenly and clearly the hard sadness of leaving the beautiful stations, the soft havens and hammered streets.  And he gives recognition, with a lonesome prayer, to the difficulties of all living persons, and wishes them good journey through the extreme shoals of the long lake of life, with a last fare-thee-well and a God bless.  To Harcourt in particular, his living brother (307-308).”  The ending of this book is hardly happy, but I found peace and beauty in it nonetheless.

I’ve pretty much run out of interesting things to say about The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty.  Part Three granted Eneas some peace and happiness and stability for a few years, and it was lovely to see.  Eneas’ last, wholly unselfish act, attempting to save the life of someone who has been out to kill him for close to fifty years, proves that he is a good person, not that there was any doubt about that in the first place.  He is a victim of circumstance his whole life, but it never makes him jaded.  He just keeps plugging away at life and never seems to give up hope that the good days are just around the corner.  Perhaps that makes him naïve.  But he has been a breath of fresh air to me.  I may never figure out what really happened between Eneas and Roseanne McNulty, but I will always remember these two tragic heroes.

I wish that I’d been able to get through this book a little faster so I could have written a single review about it.  It really was a beautifully written novel, though sometimes the tragedy of Eneas’ life got to be a bit much for me.  Surely no one’s life is quite this terrible?  It began to seem like Barry created Eneas just so he could throw all the badness of the world at a single human being to see what he was made of.  And Eneas McNulty is made of stronger stuff than just about any person I’ve ever known.  Who else would have tried to save his enemy when doing so was without a doubt going to end his life?  Only Eneas.

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

One Response to Final Thoughts on Sebastian Barry’s The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty

  1. Pingback: Review of Sebastian Barry’s The Temporary Gentleman (by Jill) | Postcards From Purgatory

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