(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In 1979, Thomas Flanagan was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction for his The Year of the French. That novel told the story of how the Irish failed, despite French assistance, to expel the British and create a republic in 1789, and how this event passed into myth. In 1988, Flanagan, again in fictional form, related the events of the 1860’s Fenian rising against the British in The Tenants of Time. That rebellion, too, failed but also left a legacy of myth and symbol to affect another generation. In The End of the Hunt, Flanagan returns to an Irish rebellion against British rule, this time to the era of World War I and the Easter Rising of 1916 and its aftermath. As in the past, the Easter Rising was a failure in that it did not succeed in ousting the British, but the defeated rebels, who were executed by the victors, became martyrs who inspired further conflict by their shed blood. That conflict—the Troubles and the civil war—allows Flanagan again to explore the Irish past, which in Ireland is never past but always still alive in the present and seemingly never to be forgotten by future generations.

History and particularly its effects are the primary subjects of Flanagan’s novels—not history for its own sake but its influence on later generations. It has been remarked that a happy nation is a nation with no history, but many in Ireland have nothing but their history (or histories). In The Tenants of Time Patrick Prentiss, a young Catholic Irishman trained in history at the University of Oxford, goes back to Ireland in 1904 to discover the true history—beyond poems and ballads—of the Fenian Rising of 1867. The End of the Hunt begins in 1919, with Prentiss returning to Dublin after losing an arm fighting in the British Army in the Great War, but he has abandoned academic history to practice law.

Christopher Blake is another young Irish historian, having written a respectable work on Irish Catholic gentry families of the eighteenth century. In 1916, however, Blake leaves academic history behind and joins Patrick Pearse and James Connolly at the General Post Office in Dublin. There Pearse proclaims the Irish Republic in what turns out to be a blood sacrifice—Pearse’s and Connolly’s blood.

Still another character in The End of the Hunt is wrapped up in history. Frank Lacy, whose father edits a newspaper in a small town in Ireland, is fond of the writers of ancient Rome, particularly Vergil, the epic poet of imperial Rome’s heyday. On one occasion, Blake remarks that Lacy might be better off reading Plutarch rather than Vergil, for Plutarch concentrated upon the lives of the noble Greeks and Romans and, Flanagan intimates, history is the story of individuals and how they are caught up in the historical web of the past, present, and future.

Flanagan uses a number of literary techniques in The End of the Hunt. Each chapter usually focuses on a single individual, sometimes relating the present, sometimes events in the past, while occasionally the future is mentioned. At times Flanagan narrates events in the third person, as with Lacy’s and Blake’s experiences. Historical personages such as British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, War and Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, and their Irish opponents Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins are also portrayed in the third person. Some of the fictional characters, however, tell their story through a first-person narrative, as when Prentiss returns to Dublin in 1919 after World War I, on the eve of the emerging civil war between the British government and the Irish revolutionaries, Sinn Fein and its military wing, the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Interestingly, the key figure in The End of the Hunt is not one of the Irish politicians of Sinn Fein or one of the hard men of the IRA—Lacy, Blake, or Michael Collins—or even one of their British opponents, but Janice Nugent, from an old Irish Catholic gentry family. Widowed when the novel begins, she has been living primarily in London in recent years; her husband was killed in the Dardanelles in 1915. She and Blake begin an affair and fall in love. Much of the “history” of the novel is related by her, often through Blake’s telling her of his experiences. Blake, a key adviser to Collins, is the man at the center of events, the onetime historian of Ireland’s Catholic gentry families. Nugent, whose family is one of those chronicled by Blake, is little interested in history, particularly as exemplified by events such as the Troubles. Her husband...

(The entire section is 1878 words.)