Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The ga bolga is the weapon which the legendary Irish hero, Cuchulain, forged in order to fight to the death his best friend, Ferdia. Coote remains in ignorance until the end that this tremendous spear is a weapon of death and associates it instead with sexual pleasure, ignoring the various spearlike instruments that come to his hand at critical moments. Coote’s ignorance allows the author to pun quietly and in the manner of, most notably, John Donne on the double entendre of the word “die.” In addition, however, the pun points to a major theme of this unobtrusively ambitious novel, the erratic but indissoluble relationship between love and death. Furthermore, the pun helps to identify the multiple motifs of doubleness which is one of the main sources of elusive meaning in The Trick of the Ga Bolga.

Coote’s loving of Imelda leads to his death, his love for Consolata leads to her death, and the Proker meets his end attempting to lure Coote to love. What the reader might take to be the opposite of love turns out to be its Doppelganger. In this novel’s view, there is no remedy for this state of affairs. Even the most innocent encounter, such as when Coote shows his affection for Imelda’s waiflike daughter, ends disastrously for the child while adversely affecting Coote himself. The unlikelihood of this balance of forces, producing endless stalemate and using their human embodiments in a casually exemplifying manner, is beyond the capacity...

(The entire section is 479 words.)