The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

1. First lines. 2. Published 2014 Faber and Penguin Random House 3. Brown paper via pxfuel 4. Photograph [CC0] via pxhere 5. This is photograph H 9476 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums By War Office official photographer. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia
A sad, sad story.

Jack McNulty is an Irishman who enlisted as a soldier in the British Army in WWII. In 1957, he is in Ghana looking back on his life of heavy drinking, uncontrolled gambling, and the neglect of his wife Mai and their two children when they needed him most.

“I miss her face, its beauty, and its beauty lost.”

“My great failing it is true was spending whole nights studying the form sheets and then, in a form of admirable cowardice, backing the bloody favourites. But, but, Phoenix Park, with the great trees around the enclosure, and the air of conspiracy every last thing possessed, the smart wooden buildings, the carved clocks, the eccentric old tipsters who never left the bar to watch a race, the bookies up on their boxes, crying out their information in strange codes, the trainers’ secrets spreading out from stable boys and infecting every conversation with anxiety and excitement, the summer wind moving through the trees, and the crowds roaring, roaring like the very choir of life. All those matters gladdened me, and no distance would have been too great to go.”

“For myself, I could only wonder at her – was this a sort of evil borrowed from alcohol? I didn’t believe that in herself, in her heart and soul, she was a vicious woman. How is it that for some people drinking is a short-term loan on the spirit, but for others a heavy mortgage on the soul? How is it many a drinker becomes gay and light-hearted, but some so darkly morose and rescinded, filleted of every scrap of happiness, that they might beat their child in the snow?”

~Quotes from “The Temporary Gentleman” by Sebastian Barry
  • Kirkus: “Grim, even cautionary, from first to last. But, for all that, a beautifully written story of a love lost, and inevitably so.”
  • Washington Times: “The Temporary Gentleman is the work of a great talent. Mr. Barry uses stories from his grandfather; he re-creates characters from his other novels. In recounting the adventures of one lifetime, he lays bare the wild beauty and the sad failures of the Irish soul.”

Other editions

Awards: Walter Scott Prize Nominee (2015)


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