The Red and the Green
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As far as I know this is Murdoch's only foray into historical fiction. You could argue, for her just barely as this would have been her parents' and grandparents' generation experiencing the Easter Uprising of April 1916 (a mad bid for immediate independence). The story covers the week before the uprising and is focussed on an Anglo-irish family with roots deep enough to be (mostly) fully identified with the struggle, albeit with ragged edges. Some of the family has become Catholic, the more Anglo have remained Protestant. The focal point is Pat Dumay, one of the older cousins in this group of interrelated families, there is also Frances, another cousin Andrew and Pat's younger brother Cathal all of them in their teens or early twenties. Frances and Andrew (who is in the British army on leave) are assumed to be affianced in all but name, even though they are distantly related. In the older generation there is a still beautiful aunt and a religious aunt, a ne'er do well uncle (Barney, perhaps the character I liked the most, he was quite humorous) and a well-to-do and sensible uncle, a full cast in other words but they are one and all caught up in the swirl of events of that week, helpless to save themselves from the inevitable --not unlike the way the great yellow boulders Murdoch describes along the Dublin shore will destroy anything that gets caught among them. It is a "harder" book than many of Murdoch's in that it really is "about" something definite, and yet it also contains many of the classic Murdochian hallmarks, an enchantress, a charismatic, ruthless, and sexually ambiguous man (Pat Dumay) with whom everyone is secretly obsessed. The story builds also in classic Murdoch fashion to a crisis both comical and sad. And there are many memorable houses each with their own personalities, a Murdoch feature I treasure. Are there some Joycean echoes here and there in loving descriptions of Dublin? I think so, and the cadence at the end recalled to me, "The Dead." To be sure, it is a book for the habituated Murdochian and/or those interested in that moment in Irish history. ****
Andrews, the more Anglicized cousin is thinking about his non-relationship with his cousin Pat as he stands on a sunny beach near his mother's new house:
"Here there came to him a great enlightenment and a great peace. He would never be friends with Pat. Pat belonged to some other race of men. Even if he were to seek Pat out and somehow beg his pardon, even if he were to seek Pat out and somehow defy him, the response would be the same. Pat would be cool, ironical, amused, polite, distant, and finally bored. The realization that there are people we shall never conquer comes to us as a part of the process of growing up."
All of the characters repeatedly experience insights like this only to falter and fall back into confusion before reaching for resolution once again. Very oceanic.