Places Discussed

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*Dublin. Capital of Ireland, in which the entire novel is set. Dublin’s slums offer a squalid backdrop to the criminal activities of the novel’s characters.

Dunboy lodging house

Dunboy lodging house. Dismal excuse for a flophouse where fugitive Frankie McPhillip meets his old comrade Gypo Nolan. Frankie, a member of a paramilitary organization, is wanted for the murder of a union organizer. The lodging house looms as an ugly monstrosity popular among Dublin’s criminal underground. The accommodations are spartan, and the residents emerge as a haggard collection of the unwashed and forlorn. Over a paltry meal, Nolan impulsively decides to inform on his friend and collect the ransom money.

McPhillip home

McPhillip home. Frankie’s family residence. To protect himself from the suspicion of having informed on his friend and to offer condolences, Nolan wanders over to the McPhillip home, and the walk becomes an expressionistic odyssey. A street which was once familiar becomes threatening, as if inhabited by monsters. Thus begins a pattern repeated throughout the novel: Landscape and setting alternate between predatory threat and calming retreat.

The house itself is a refreshing haven from the storm on the lanes and in Nolan’s head. It is the most respectable house on the street, with a parlor window, fresh curtains, spotless stairway, and polished brass railings. Photographs and ornaments decorate the rooms, the kitchen is spacious, and everything is immaculate except Nolan, who stands in motley high relief. In fact, except for the novel’s final setting, another associated with the McPhillips, this house represents the best that Nolan’s world can offer.

Fish and chips shop

Fish and chips shop. Seedy restaurant on the slum streets where Nolan stops for nourishment. Overwhelmed by the sorrow of the McPhillip family, Nolan retreats to the neighborhood he knows best, and in an expansive mood, he buys meals for an assembled crowd. The group represents more of Dublin’s losers, yet Nolan regards them as his loyal subjects as he plays king for the moment. Ironically, though, his generosity brings unwanted attention and the assurance that he is Frankie’s informant and therefore responsible for his friend’s death.

Aunt Betty’s bordello

Aunt Betty’s bordello. High-class brothel. Aunt Betty’s stands as another contrasting portrait in a night of antitheses. Nolan usually visits Biddy Burke’s place, where the prostitutes are slovenly drunks and the stout is watered down. Aunt Betty’s, however, caters to a more fashionable crowd: a group of university students, an artist, and a doctor. Where Biddy’s is an unkempt hovel, Aunt Betty’s has a broad hearth, clean walls covered with titillating photographs, and delftware on a dresser. Once again Nolan is conspicuous in his working-class attire but wins the favor of the madam and the prostitutes when he impulsively throws his ransom money around.

Bogey Hole

Bogey Hole. Abandoned basement wine cellar used as a makeshift prison. Nolan is spirited off to this cavern for interrogation, which both literally and figuratively represents the nadir of his experience. Located in the bowels of a once-grand manor, the Bogey Hole sits under a crumbling structure in which water continuously drips, rubbish is strewn around, and rats scurry about.


*Tipperary. Village in south-central Ireland that is the location of Nolan’s youth. Periodically the narrative is punctuated by Nolan’s memory of his youth and the fact that he is ill suited for city life. After escaping from the Bogey Hole, he travels once more across north Dublin in the hope of crossing the Liffey River and heading south to the mountains. In another of the novel’s dramatic antitheses, the mountains represent freedom, expansiveness, and a return to simplicity.


Church. Chapel in which Frankie’s mother retreats...

(The entire section contains 1015 words.)

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Critical Essays