Patrick Boyle

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David Dempsey

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[Like Any Other Man] is a retelling, in a modern idiom, of the Samson and Delilah story; by taking a pagan theme that fits nicely into biblical sanction, the author has been able to smuggle an outrageously funny, frank, and terrifying book into his own country. Patrick Boyle is the best thing that has happened to literary Ireland in a long time.

Because he relates the modern obsession with sex to a vanishing sense of guilt, he is also something of an out of season Jansenist, a man who can make sin still seem Original. This is a disturbing novel, dealing with the shattering calamity of a man who is destroyed by his own strength, and by implication it challenges much of the new theology, with its emphasis on secular redemption. I don't mean to suggest that the author is grinding an axe for religion…. [If] anything Boyle sees the church as having lost its hold on the individual sinner. He is dealing here with what might properly be called the Masculine Mystique, the prideful obtuseness by which some modern Celts (Behan? Dylan Thomas?) fulfill their natures, and shatter their careers, through alcohol, sex and—in the protagonist at hand—the lifting of heavy weights.

This, at least, would seem to be the case with James Simpson (Samson)…. Given to drink and carnality, Simpson meets Delia (Delilah) Clifden, a local barmaid who is more than willing to share her couch with him. Simpson's vulnerability is lust and, knowing this, Delia urges him on to self-destruction….

Boyle is obviously not updating the biblical tale solely as a literary exercise. Yet, what else he may be trying to do is not readily apparent. Is this modern Samson revolting against an outdated society, typified here by the archaic workings of the Irish banking system? Does his wild, randy nature symbolize the paganism that lies beneath the surface of Irish life, as it once antedated Christian Ireland? Is Simpson's failure the failure of a church that is no longer relevant to personal sin? He talks repeatedly of going to confession, but instead he trots from doctor to doctor … as he seeks a physical cure for a spiritual disease. Simpson is doomed because he cannot act on the truth of his condition without a belief in something greater than himself. In this sense he is "like any other man."

David Dempsey, "Samson Updated," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1968 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LI, No. 29, July 20, 1968, p. 25.

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