Patrick Boyle Nick Totton - Essay

Nick Totton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sometimes—in moments of bleakness—it seems as though the main teams of modern fiction writers are the Moralists and the Amoralists. If this is so, then Patrick Boyle is a solid and creditable full-back for the first team. Beyond its humour and its sophisticated representationalism, A View from Calvary aims to lay bare the movements of the will; and, especially, that fatal lethargy, born so often from the self-imposed constraint of fear of social opinion, which leads to moral failure and human pain….

In those stories where he [maintains] the narrative posture demanded of moral fiction—a more or less explicit authorial judgment—[it] is never simplistic: it aims for, and sometimes reaches, that tough acceptance of ambivalence which passes from moral fiction to enter upon the moral life itself. The smaller squibs, really only elaborate jokes, are supported by this broader vision in much the same way that popular jokes are supported by the strength of popular culture.

This said, it must be added that Mr Boyle has a lot of growing still to do as a writer. He is saddled with that peculiar temptation which goes along with being an Irishman. Irishism is by no means a played-out literary vein; and though, to everyone's relief, he largely escapes this comfortable vocation, he does have a weakness for Irish Humour.

Mr Boyle's biggest difficulty is the technical problem of writing moral fiction about people who are not morally articulate. Indeed, this can be seen as very much the problem which created Ulysses and the whole modernist movement in fiction: to step outside the enclave of the self-conscious bourgeoisie, one must find new non-representational modes to represent those states which 'characters' cannot plausibly articulate in well-rounded phrases. Every time one of Mr Boyle's characters faces the camera, as it were, the living, energetic dialogue which is his strongest asset performs a belly-flop.

Nick Totton, "The Amoralists," in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 237, No. 7730, August 21, 1976, p. 23.∗