(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mervyn, sometimes called Merlin, winds his way from Shannon in the Republic of Ireland to Carmincross in Northern Ireland and then back to Dublin. It is a very leisurely and circuitous journey, punctuated by Mervyn’s running commentary on the state of Ireland in the 1970’s; he contrasts again and again the pastoral Ireland of his youth to the murderous division that has marked the Ireland of his adulthood. Much of the novel is a monologue by Mervyn, and his speech is full of references to songs, poems, and speeches which counterpoint and contrast the heroic and the ideal of the past to the meanspirited and fanatical ideas of the present.

When Mervyn arrives in Ireland at Shannon, he is reunited with an old friend, Mr. Burns, and an old love, Deborah. After a brief rest, Mervyn sets out for Carmincross with Deborah for a niece’s wedding. The first pause in the journey is to visit a hero of 1916 with two travelers they have joined, Killoran and Jeremiah. Killoran is very respectful to this nameless hero, but Jeremiah mocks him and what his kind have created, a climate for murder and destruction. The hero’s talk is about not only the Troubles of 1916-1921 but also the battles and defeats of the sixteenth century. “On such bullshit were we raised, says Jeremiah. No wonder we are the way we are.” Mervyn and Deborah are caught in the middle of this conflict and say little; the division of the group into three separate parts is, perhaps, a reflection of the division in the country.

The next part of the journey is more peaceful as the two pass over mountains and through the countryside. Mervyn tells Deborah the Celtic tale of Grainne and Diarmuid, who fell in love and were pursued by Fionn MacCool. The tale is not chosen randomly; Deborah is being followed by the husband she has left, and Mervyn is bombarded by phone calls and messages from the wife he has left behind in New York. They detour to see a bit of Deborah’s youth, a quiet village and an aristocratic mansion. The village is still quiet, but the aristocrat has left the mansion. Deborah once played there, but now it is guarded by dogs. The current occupant is merely a caretaker and is busy cutting down the trees. His view is clear: “The...

(The entire section is 910 words.)