12 September 14 | Kaija Straumanis

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Vincent Francone on Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon, translated by Ursula Meany Scott and published by The Lilliput Press.

All I have to say before we get to Vince’s review is that “Killybegs” sounds like something one might yell after a pint too many at some local bar. There’s something about the word that just makes it sound a little manic, a little on the edge. Which, if you look at Google pictures of the sleepy-looking fishing town town, appears to be completely not accurate. But . . . KILLYBEGS!

On to Vince’s review:

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the book is the importance and artifice of myths and legends. In this sense, the novel’s plot, loosely based on the infamous case of IRA leader turned informer Dennis Donaldson, serves to do more than artfully convey the manner in which a zealot becomes a traitor; the book details the manner in which we construct ourselves and the ease in which such façades are eroded.

I won’t go into the (pardon the euphemism) complicated history of Northern Ireland, but a quick study will inform the neophyte reader about Sinn Féin and the Troubles, giving them proper (though not necessary) background to enjoy Chalandon’s book. But no reader should consider Return to Killybegs a thorough study of the conflict in Northern Ireland, though in a sense this may be the ideal book to see beyond the history. Often such novels are marketed as windows into a world most readers would fear to actually visit, and we can thank Chalandon for his time as a reporter in Belfast, time that lent the novel proper verisimilitude. While in Belfast, Chalandon befriended Dennis Donaldson, and this relationship has spawned a novel that compresses nearly a century of Irish history into a few hundred quick-moving pages. This accomplishment might be possible in a strict biography, though the result would inevitably swing toward objective distillation of events. But in the fictional account of Tyrone Meehan, the protagonist of Return to Killybegs, the reader is offered a more probing view of the much-maligned traitor. One wonders if the real-life Donaldson is as sympathetic a character as Meehan. And sympathetic he is, allowing the reader to shelve the conflict that often arises when reading history: how do we pity a loathed historical figure?

For the rest of the review, go here.

(KILLYBEEEEEEEEEGGGSSSS . . . !)


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