Monday, July 19, 2010

The Deposition of Father McGreevy

I really had no idea about either Brian O'Doherty or about his 1999 novel The Deposition of Father McGreevy. I'm pretty sure the book was on one of those "customers who liked this book might like these other books" advertising sidebars on Amazon. As I got into it it was so far into the "Poor Mouth" aesthetic that I thought it might have been deliberately self-parodic, but cover blurbs by Frank Conroy, Jim Harrison and James McCourt confirmed that this is an earnest exercise in the more gothic (as in "Southern Gothic") mode of Irish literature - a melancholy terrain even at its sunniest, let alone frozen in the dark as it is here. (See earlier posts on Hard-Boiled and Crazy Irish.)

In this case we have an unnamed, Irish-speaking village, somewhere above a town in the mountains above the Kerry Peninsula, that is slowly dwindling to an end. The year is 1939. Father McGreevy faces the closing of his parish after 30 years among the villagers. He is well-intentioned but conservative and obtuse enough to fail them when they can no longer withstand the pressure of the outside world. He bears more responsibility for the calamities he recounts than he knows. Innocent people, as so often happens in Irish literature, are condemned to the worst kind of disgrace, lives thrown away, families destroyed.

So, of course, I liked it. Plowed on through once I got hooked. I enjoyed the occasional footnotes, mostly biographies of Irish notables who are glancingly mentioned in the text (although including them was kind of an odd decision). The writing is generally good, in the tough-guy realist style. The atmosphere is satisfyingly oppressive for the Irish literature enthusiast. It is, though, somewhat over the top and I recommend it for readers who are already enthusiasts of the Irish novel and/or hard-bitten tough-guy stuff. Don't hand this one over to Grandma until you've checked it out for yourself.

It was also a pleasure to learn more about Brian O'Doherty. O'Doherty, Roscommon-born, has had several distinguished careers, both as a sculptor and conceptual artist and as an executive in the USA for the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations. In 1972 he changed his name to Patrick Ireland to protest the "bloody Sunday" killings in Derry that year, and worked under that name until the peace accords of 2008. He comes to novel-writing late, but this one was nominated for the Booker. Very interesting and talented person.

No comments: