Bernard Mac Laverty John Naughton - Essay

John Naughton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Lamb is Bernard MacLaverty's first novel, and an impressive début it is too. The central characters are a man and a boy—the former a Christian Brother who works in an Irish borstal, the latter one of his wayward charges. The story opens in a windswept reformatory on the west coast of Ireland, where a community of Christian Brothers strives to inject a comprehensive fear of both God and man into kids who are either too young for jail or too much for their parents.

The casual, almost cheerful, brutality of the place is well evoked. In particular, there is an economical portrait of one Brother Benedict, the chief disciplinarian of the establishment, which will bring out the weals on any former client of the Brothers who chances to read it. The regime proves, in the end, too much for Michael Lamb, alias Brother Sebastian, who decides to quit the Order after his father dies and leaves him a little money. In departing, however, he takes with him a young epileptic called Owen with whom he has built up an affectionate relationship over two years….

The novel traces the development of their relationship under the pressures of flight, and chronicles the gradual closing of their options with sympathy and skill. It's a story which could easily have degenerated into schmaltz, but Mr MacLaverty keeps his nerve all the way, and brings off an ending which, though predictably tragic and moving, is in no way sentimental.

John Naughton, "Hitler in the Amazon," in The Listener, Vol. 103, No. 2656, July 3, 1980, p. 25.∗