Patrick Boyle David Dempsey - Essay

David Dempsey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Working within the tradition of the modern Irish short story [in At Night All Cats Are Grey, Patrick Boyle] has freed himself of the gentle pathos that became Frank O'Connor's hallmark; he avoids, too, Sean O'Faolain's generally cheerful outlook on his countrymen. It is as though he wanted to dig deeper into a vein already well mined. Boyle's is a more somber disposition; a realist who rarely softens the edges of life, he is closer to the Joyce of Dubliners than to his contemporaries. But, although he shares Joyce's fascination with words, they are not so much the talismans that Joyce eventually made them as tap roots linking his characters to the deeper, inarticulate realities of their lives. If some of the writing seems overdescriptive, what results is nevertheless a sense of authenticity and a conviction that the author chooses not to trade the harshness of his world for stylistic facility. In his best stories some bleak truth is pried loose from its hidden depths and floated to the surface. And it is here that Boyle's meticulous observation pays off.

In "Meles Vulgaris" he uses the theme of brutality to define both heroism and cowardice. The strength of this story is in the long, detailed description of a forced "match" between a captured badger and a pack of dogs…. What this is becomes apparent when a married couple recall the excitement of the match years later, with a mixture of pleasure and...

(The entire section is 417 words.)