Thomas (James Bonner) Flanagan Conor Cruise O'Brien - Essay

Conor Cruise O'Brien

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

'The Year of the French' is a novel which does a great deal more than tell [the story of the French invasion at Killala in 1798], though it tells it very well indeed. Its main and absorbing interest is in its picture of the society, or societies, into which the French landed, like men from Mars….

[Mr. Flanagan's] special academic interest is Anglo-Irish literature and he puts this interest to good use in this novel, much of which is built out of brilliant pastiche extracts from various 'diaries' and 'work-books.' It is the work of a man learned in Irish history—as very few novelists are learned—but also emotionally involved in it, tied to it by a strange sardonic yearning….

Mr. Flanagan has a fine ear for Irish speech, and a keen eye for the manifold discrepancies of Irish life and Irish thought: especially for the discrepancies between the life and the thought. These last are particularly relevant to the period and theme of 'The Year of the French.' Between the thought of the United Irishmen—the ideological revolutionaries who summoned the French to Ireland—and the life of the country into which they summoned them, there is a discrepancy of the proportions of a chasm….

'The Year of the French' is a magnificent and beautifully written historical novel. It can be read with pleasure and profit by people who have no particular interest in Ireland.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, "The Last Invasion," in The Observer (reprinted by permission of The Observer Limited), No. 9804, July 22, 1979, p. 37.