Tag: Kenya

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

Posted May 4, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian BarryTitle: The Temporary Gentleman (Goodreads)
Author: Sebastian Barry
Published: Faber & Faber, 2014
Pages: 270
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Sebastian Barry is often credited for the way he captures the quintessential Irish life, especially with the McNulty family. The Temporary Gentleman tells the story of Jack McNulty, an Irish engineer that gets commissioned into the British Army in the Second World War. I will admit that this is my first Sebastian Barry novel but I had a fair idea on what I was getting myself into. The title alone gave me an idea of the type of man this is following, only temporarily a refined gentleman. It was also the idea that Jack wanted to be a gentleman but thought his social-economical background prohibited that.

The Temporary Gentleman serves are a retrospective of Jack’s life as he reflects on the choices he made along the way. But unlike similar stories like this, Jack wasn’t a nice person; in fact he was a real bastard. A drunk and a degenerate gambler, he not only ruined he own life but that of his wife, Mai. He joined the army to escape, not a honourable thing to do but I get a sense that Jack may of felt like this was the only time he was a gentleman.  Leaving Africa would mean he would have to return to his past, but is this what makes he such a bastard?

I will admit that I went into The Temporary Gentleman with the idea that this was a post-colonial novel; I expected it to explore the effects of empiricism of Kenya as they were working toward their independence. I only guess that from the synopsis and I guess you can say there was some glimpses of this, the way the Kenyans treated Jack as an ex Major. In hindsight, if I was to look at this novel as post-colonial, I should have been focusing on the imperial effects England had over Ireland. Considering this took place after the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923).

However I decided to look at this novel through the lens of psychoanalytical theory. I’m no expert at literary theories but I do try and this was a very in-depth and psychological look at Jack McNulty and the way he sees himself. A look at his mistakes and narcissism and how damaging his choose are for him and the people close to him. The Temporary Gentleman almost serves as a psychological profile and if I knew more about psychology I would try to analyse it.

I have to except that my literary criticism skills are still very lacking, I might have been able to handle this novel through the lens of post-colonialism but it was too focused on Jake McNulty to get much out of it. Psychoanalytical theory is something I’m very interested in and possibly my next focus in the world of literary criticism. All I can really say is that Barry makes it impossible to sympathise with Jack at all.

Sebastian Barry appears to know his craft; his approach to the novel was expertly executed. The prose in The Temporary Gentleman makes the whole experience bearable; you can help but enjoy the writing while grinding your teeth at Jack McNulty. I don’t feel like I can truly recommend this novel, there are plenty of unlikeable characters that are more thrilling to read about but I will be returning Sebastian Barry in the future.