Sabrina Murray’s Valiant Gentleman strikes one as a means to get in on the interest surrounding the centenary of the Rising in 2016 and to cater to the appetite of the Irish diaspora for material featuring the Irish martyrs of that time. That being said it cannot be faulted for this. There remains a wealth of material yet to be assayed over from a temporal distance that deserves examination and can certainly make for fine recounting. Getting to the heart of the experience, potential motivations behind the dramatic events of this time does deserved tribute to the remarkable characters that have grown to mythological dimensions. Arguably, few are more remarkable than Roger Casement. Coming on the heels of the Dream of the Celt, another historical fictional account, expectations are high and unfortunately unrealised by this volume – and in this, it must be faulted.
** spoiler alert ** The third part of this book saves it in my estimation (that section to my mind is worth 4 stars – the book in its entirety – 2/2.5 stars). Suddenly the narrative and the characters spring to life in the last 20%. Prior to this, the prose is laboured, seemingly lacking a perceptible focus, direction or really compelling engagement with the reader. The characters floated through life (despite trying circumstances) and I felt little if any connection with anyone. From my perspective, the first two of three parts are almost superfluous to the novel. They provide historical background that most probably would be familiar with anyway (nothing new is introduced and what is used is hugely superficial in scope) – and endless meandering nothingness. It was almost maddening to sleepwalk through the tale, a novel that seemed to dance around what might have been told or characters that may have been established. But…as said, in the third part of the novel everything comes to light and one suddenly begins to feel some empathy. The lines become drawn, the behaviours become suddenly more reflective of the values of the identifiable characters. Historical facts are largely left for the reader to explore on their own (not always a bad thing) but the lack of historicism here should have been supplanted by some quality of getting into the actual minds of the characters being presented.
Bottom line, Casement sleepwalks into martyrdom, Ward never really finds himself (an artist who does what is expected and marries and becomes father of some sort to family) and Sarita (all knowing but a survivor to the bone and largely a product of seeming system that had bred her to seek to not find a true calling save that of mother).
I would have been happier to have found a novella consisting of part three (with slight embellishment to bring me up to date) and then captured the essence.
As this was a book club read and I recount here for culbual posterity, the novel was generally well received with an average score of 5.21. On the board, Brian C 5.0, Shawn 4.0, Joe 5.5, Fergal 5.0, Jim 4.5, Brian M 7.5, Declan 5.0.
The recommendation tabled for our March read were:
Mike – The Wisdom of Frugality – Emrys Westacott
Declan – Wounds: A Memoir of War and Love – Fergal Keane
Fergal – The Monk of Mocha – Dave Eggers
Shawn – The Tetris Effect – Dan Ackerman
Brian C – Proof: The Science of Booze – Adam Rogers
And the winner is …. The Tetris Effect by Dan Ackerman (by flip of coin with a tie in the voting).