Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Kate O’Brien was born and reared in Ireland. She worked for years in Spain and France, however, and was thus exposed to European culture to an extent rare for a graduate of Dublin’s University College at the time. Her novels reveal her blended French-Irish cultural background, and she became one of the few cosmopolitan novelists able to treat the delicate question of Irish isolationism fairly and perceptively. Her works reflect a deep understanding of Ireland’s human qualities and the beauty of its culture.

THE LAST OF SUMMER is more than the story of an intense love triangle on an isolated estate in Ireland. It is also the story of a much-criticized man, Tom, who refuses to be a fool, and of his mother, Hannah, who believes in Ireland’s right to isolationism and in her own right to live among her loved ones on Kernahans Estate as she sees fit. The novel’s action occurs during the three brooding weeks just before World War II explodes late in the summer of 1939. The wild love of Tom and Martin for Angele is poignantly told. Angele is beautiful “in a queer sort of way,” and her oddly angelic, yet adult, innocence mesmerizes the Kernahans clan. The cross-cultural theme of the story fades in importance before the brusque rupturing of the Kernahans’ pleasant isolation on the black eve of war.

Character delineation is subtle. Allegedly spineless, Tom had suffered childhood losses when he was too young to grasp them; as a...

(The entire section is 526 words.)