Ir­ish tale weaves to­gether re­li­gion, econ­omy... and the di­a­bol­i­cal

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

THE epi­graph of The Devil I Know is the open­ing pas­sage of James Joyce’s Fin­negans Wake, a for­mi­da­ble chunk of Ir­ish lit­er­a­ture. But reader, do not fear. What fol­lows is not nearly so daunt­ing. Claire Kil­roy’s ac­ces­si­ble and in­trigu­ing lit­er­ary novel, her fourth, is a brisk, imag­i­na­tive tale that dis­sects the boom-and­bust his­tory of the last decade in her na­tive Ire­land, a corner of the world that has long suc­cess­fully ex­ported its sto­ries and its char­ac­ters. But there is a di­a­bol­i­cal in­flu­ence here, glimpsed in­creas­ingly clearly as the story rushes along. This is not the Ire­land of Martin Six­smith’ss Philom­ena, the re­cent hit movie in which the malev­o­lent in­flu­ence of the Ro­man Catholic Church ex­tends even into the White House. Nor is it the Ire­land of the nov­els of John Banville and his al­ter ego Ben­jamin Black, set un­der low-hang­ingn psy­chic and re­li­gious gloom. Rather, The Devil I Know por­trays the church and his­tory it­self in full re­treat, over­whelmed by the eco­nomic tri­umphal­is­mis of the Celtic Tiger, the Ir­ish build­ing boom fu­elled in the early 21st cen­tury by hun­dreds of mil­lions of bor­rowed eu­ros. The money lenders have ban­ished re­li­gious in­flu­ence from the tem­ple. Of course that greed-fu­elled in­ter­na­tional spree was un­sup­port­able, and in fact it sparked the near-col­lapse of in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial sys­tems in 2008. This novel takes the form of tes­ti­mony by Tris­tram Amory St. Lawrence, the 13th Earl of Howth — his name and ti­tle echo­ing the pas­sage from Fin­negans Wake. Tris­tram, as he is usu­ally re­ferred to, is ap­pear­ing be­fore an en­tity known only as the Com­mis­sion, which is ap­par­ently in­ves­ti­gat­ing the eco­nomic calamity. These hear­ings take place in 2016, but most of the story rolls out in ex­tended flash­backs from 2006 to 2008. Like mil­lions be­fore him, our hero left Ire­land to make his for­tune else­where, but oth­er­wise he is an odd­ball: a loner, an in­ter­preter (“I do all the ma­jor Euro­pean lan­guages”) who has erased him­self in his work and his mem­ber­ship in Al­co­holics Anony­mous. “One must hol­low one­self out. One must make of one­self the per­fect con­duit. This is a trick I have mas­tered... They said my gift was un­canny.” Forced by an in-flight emer­gency to re­visit Dublin, Tris­tram en­coun­ters friends and fam­ily who be­lieve him dead. In­deed, a hos­pi­tal has recorded his death, although not his res­ur­rec­tion — an early hint that there are more things in this story than can eas­ily be ex­plained. Tris­tram be­gins to re­ceive new in­struc­tions from the shad­owy M. Deauville, the con­sul­tant who has en­abled his ca­reer. They com­mu­ni­cate only by phone. These tasks launch him as a fi­nan­cial ma­nip­u­la­tor, build­ing the un­sta­ble foot­ings of the short-lived eco­nomic mir­a­cle. Guided by M. Deauville, Tris­tram quickly ad­vances to han­dling hun­dreds of mil­lions of eu­ros in projects through­out Ire­land and Bri­tain, then into Asia. He par­tic­i­pates in re­peated bribery of a cab­i­net min­is­ter, and his new busi­ness friends ex­ert grow­ing pres­sure on him to re­sume drink­ing. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he won­ders how all this could be nat­u­ral. Then, when the gi­gan­tic fi­nan­cial fic­tion col­lapses, he must con­front the real per­pe­tra­tor. Now, what does the Bi­ble say about the love of money be­ing the root of all evil? Dun­can McMona­gle holds Cana­dian and Ir­ish cit­i­zen­ship. He has met the devil from time to time, although never at Red River Col­lege, where he teaches jour­nal­ism.


Claire Kil­roy’s ac­ces­si­ble and in­trigu­ing fourth lit­er­ary novel is a brisk, imag­i­na­tive tale.

The Devil I Know

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