Patrick Boyle uses Irish speech for exactitude, but English for effect—and all too often weakens the effect by exaggeration. 'Tap-tap-tap. Loud. Urgent. Imperative'—no one even knocks on a door without taking risks with his blood pressure. Pillows are sweat-sodden, eyeballs bulge. But this isn't only Mr Boyle's manner, it's a large part of his subject. The stories in his recent At Night All Cats Are Grey are about suddent death, savage animals, a collapse of human relations that ends in a cataleptic trance—though they calm down and have good moments when people talk their natural language. His novel Like Any Other Man … describes the agony of a man for whom physical force is the only measure. The title seems inappropriate; and since the hero is a bank manager he's surely in the wrong job At all events, Simpson begins by seeing spots before his eyes, discovers he has syphilis, murders his girlfriend, goes blind and pulls the wardrobe down on top of him. The ostensible parallel is with Samson and Delilah. The real one could be with Mr Boyle and the violence he does to his own talent.
Robert Taubman, "Last Straws," in New Statesman (© 1966 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 71, No. 1841, June 24, 1966, p. 934.∗
[Like Any Other Man] is a retelling, in a modern idiom, of the Samson and Delilah story; by taking a pagan theme that fits nicely into biblical sanction, the author has been able to smuggle an outrageously funny, frank, and terrifying book into his own country. Patrick Boyle is the best thing that has happened to literary Ireland in a long time.
Because he relates the modern obsession with sex to a vanishing sense of guilt, he is also something of an out of season Jansenist, a man who can make sin still seem Original. This is a disturbing novel, dealing with the shattering calamity of a man who is destroyed by his own strength, and by implication it challenges much of the new theology, with its emphasis on secular redemption. I don't mean to suggest that the author is grinding an axe for religion…. [If] anything Boyle sees the church as having lost its hold on the individual sinner. He is dealing here with what might properly be called the Masculine Mystique, the prideful obtuseness by which some modern Celts (Behan? Dylan Thomas?) fulfill their natures, and shatter their careers, through alcohol, sex and—in the protagonist at hand—the lifting of heavy weights.
This, at least, would seem to be the case with James Simpson (Samson)…. Given to drink and carnality, Simpson meets Delia (Delilah) Clifden, a local barmaid who is more than willing to share her couch with him. Simpson's vulnerability is lust...
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[In "Like Any Other Man,"] Patrick Boyle has written a gem of a novel, limpid, sad and conceived on the dark side of the Irish soul. The protagonist, Simpson, is a lost Brian Boru, a civilized King Kong of pub and bed. His peace with the small, small-hearted town over which he officiates as fiscal priest is a terrible armistice of cunning and familiarity. He knows the foibles and weaknesses of each of his clients and considers himself exempt until syphilis strikes.
The novel deals almost entirely, over the span of a few weeks, with the quality of Simpson's terror.
[The author] has chosen his central image of descent, Simpson's retinal illness, with stark and frightening aptness. The right eyeball breaks with blood, flooding the noble man's vision with a sudden mushroom cloud, vaguely reminding him of God and shattering the buoyant will that has made him a champion weightlifter … and local good-time charlie. His roar of pain can be heard only by himself.
Because Mr. Boyle manages to hold his characters, especially the main one, with utmost, curt compassion, his book is funny, steady and unpretentious.
Clancy Sigal, "The Demise of Samson," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 28, 1968, p. 28.
Mainly, [Patrick Boyle's "At Night All Cats Are Grey"] is about drinking and dying, frequently intermingled. An old farmer gets falling-down-stoned at his wife's wake and crawls into the deathbed for his night's repose…. After the death of her husband, a grandmother is revealed to be a secret lush (milk and John Jameson)….
Mr. Boyle's wide range of sensibility also embraces the outdoor world (death again); he can give a universal tinge to the final struggle of a badger, or the aftermath of a storm at sea; laced with bleak assessments of human destiny is a full-bodied Chaucerian humor that can wring a laugh out of man at his sorriest. His awareness of mortality makes him a connoisseur of life and a sobering companion.
Martin Levin, "Reader's Report: 'At Night All Cats Are Grey'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 25, 1969, p. 48.
Working within the tradition of the modern Irish short story [in At Night All Cats Are Grey, Patrick Boyle] has freed himself of the gentle pathos that became Frank O'Connor's hallmark; he avoids, too, Sean O'Faolain's generally cheerful outlook on his countrymen. It is as though he wanted to dig deeper into a vein already well mined. Boyle's is a more somber disposition; a realist who rarely softens the edges of life, he is closer to the Joyce of Dubliners than to his contemporaries. But, although he shares Joyce's fascination with words, they are not so much the talismans that Joyce eventually made them as tap roots linking his characters to the deeper, inarticulate realities of their lives. If some of the writing seems overdescriptive, what results is nevertheless a sense of authenticity and a conviction that the author chooses not to trade the harshness of his world for stylistic facility. In his best stories some bleak truth is pried loose from its hidden depths and floated to the surface. And it is here that Boyle's meticulous observation pays off.
In "Meles Vulgaris" he uses the theme of brutality to define both heroism and cowardice. The strength of this story is in the long, detailed description of a forced "match" between a captured badger and a pack of dogs…. What this is becomes apparent when a married couple recall the excitement of the match years later, with a mixture of pleasure and...
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Patrick Boyle's collection of short stories, A View from Calvary, presents a … traditional, delicate picture of Ireland. The title piece is a novella dealing with the hypocrisy and fragility of friendship—a recurring theme. A famous composer, convinced that he has found contentment and true comradeship in a remote Irish village, becomes the victim of rumours that he is abusing rather than suffering the little children who come unto him…. Suicide follows.
Mr Boyle writes with quiet precision, infusing his stories with gentle humour and sharp moral criticism, fine descriptive touches and an acid view of the Irish character. But the ironies are perhaps too slight, the twists too predictable...
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Sometimes—in moments of bleakness—it seems as though the main teams of modern fiction writers are the Moralists and the Amoralists. If this is so, then Patrick Boyle is a solid and creditable full-back for the first team. Beyond its humour and its sophisticated representationalism, A View from Calvary aims to lay bare the movements of the will; and, especially, that fatal lethargy, born so often from the self-imposed constraint of fear of social opinion, which leads to moral failure and human pain….
In those stories where he [maintains] the narrative posture demanded of moral fiction—a more or less explicit authorial judgment—[it] is never simplistic: it aims for, and sometimes...
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"In Adversity Be Ye Steadfast" is an entertaining if unkind caricature of a God-crazed Ulster Presbyterian farmer. The same story also appears in Mr. Boyle's latest collection, A View from Calvary. Boyle is a skilful writer, though not incapable of platitude …, [of sentimentality, and of coarsegrained simple-mindedness]. There is a vein of Irish machismo running right through his work which may put some readers off; although, from another point of view, this is merely an aspect of his principal [characters]…. [However, in this collection] Boyle surprises us with his moral delicacy and imaginative range.
Derek Mahon, "Wreaths of Turf-Smoke," in The Times Literary...
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