In his novels and plays, Sebastian Barry often focuses on segment of Irish society that tends to get ignored in literature — the Irishmen who fought for the British Empire in the first and second World Wars. At Full-Stop, John Cussen reads The Temporary Gentleman, which portrays a British officer, Jack McNulty, who sets out to write his memoirs. (Related: Matt Kavanagh wrote a piece for The Millions on Irish financial fiction after the crash of 2008.)
The book’s central problem is that Dyer does not appear interested in the people he meets on the ship as people, but as corporeal representations of work ethic and purpose. I lost track of the references to ‘the fourteen-hour days’ that the crewmates work, but I’m pretty sure there were somewhere around fourteen. These men and women have something important to do, and Dyer doesn’t want to let you to forget it, even though you don’t get to know any of the men or women very well at all. Are any of them annoyed by the captain’s enforced cheeriness? We don’t know. Is the chef, who dreamt of becoming the chef at the White House but found her application thwarted by bureaucracy, bitter? Dyer wonders for a moment, but quickly gets distracted. The closest we come to differentiation among these people is when one man is referred as ‘more in love — if such a thing were possible — than the other people I’d met who were seriously in love with what they did.’
If in the first stage of a transition one is full of expectation and in the final stage the expectations are realized, then the liminal phase is marked by the twin emotions of desire and disappointment, which feed off each other cyclically. The Nasmertovs have desires that don’t correlate with the reality they must endure, but that gap alone is not what causes their disappointment. Their new reality appears riddled with an artificiality that causes a specific disappointment. Will their lives never regain the authenticity of the one they’ve left behind?
“Sitting down to read The Actress, Amy Sohn’s newest novel, is even better than standing in line at the grocery store while the person in front of you disputes the price of a carton of orange juice, giving you extra time to read the tabloids. The Actress might be as licentious as a tabloid, but it is far more intelligently written. And, you probably won’t be reading it while standing in line inside a grocery store.”
Between the 1880s and World War I, Hawthorne worked as the literary editor of the New York World, interviewed Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, covered the scandalous Stanford White murder case, reported on the 1900 Galveston hurricane and starvation in India, published five detective novels, became a friend of presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan, and wrote frequently about sports for various newspapers (being among the first to predict the greatness of Babe Ruth). But needing money in 1908, Hawthorne foolishly lent his name and pen to what turned out to be a bogus silver mine scheme. Convicted of fraud, he served a prison term — and in 1914 produced a major exposé of penal conditions called The Subterranean Brotherhood.
There’s a new edition of The Sun Also Rises, complete with a previously unpublished opening chapter-and-a-half, but Jonathan Goldman argues the new text only emphasizes the novel’s unsavory undertones.
Had my piano teacher scrawled, ‘Play one wrong note and you die’ across my sheet music in addition to her helpful but not particularly inspirational fingering suggestions, I probably would have practiced more diligently.
So there it was, still intact despite the technological advances and laconic delivery: the lyricism of night flight as first and famously evoked by Saint-Exupéry. It was as if he had revealed something intimate to me, the experience that was at the core of his being: a realm of poetry accessible only to those whose world-view is based on technology, knowledge and calculation rather than wide-eyed wonder.
Geoff Dyers’ book Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the U.S.S. George W. Bush, gives us a look at the humdrum beauty of the routine on the largest aircraft carrier in the world.