The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

During one of the bouts of introspection to which he becomes increasingly prone in the course of the novel, Coote says to himself: “At best I am necessity’s instrument.” The somewhat self-dramatizing tone of this statement should not be allowed to distract the reader from the conception of character it implies. At one level, it suggests that Coote acknowledges that he has been rendered powerless by force of circumstance. At another (at once complementary and contradictory) level, his thought hints that he is an agent engaged in defining the nature of things.

The fact that it is possible to regard both of these views of Coote as tenable IS one of the ultimate expressions of his status in the novel. He is an outsider who is accepted as an insider. He is an accidental murderer who, for a time, evades moral responsibility for his actions, and he is a confessed accidental murderer whom the authorities will not believe. He loves two women with equal degrees of fervor and commitment, even though the women are almost preposterously different from each other. Frequently, Coote finds himself so absorbed by the world of his immediate natural surroundings that he loses sight of who or what he is. In a very literal sense, he is the ideal protagonist of a mystery story, since he is the mystery. He is more significant for what the world of otherness evinces from him than for what he is in himself. His experience is broadened in inverse relation to his capacity to make sense of it.

Thus, he is in direct contrast to the natives of Garaross. They possess a consistency and rootedness which gives them, individually and collectively, a sense of definitive presence and a sense of belonging to the world, which Coote lacks, and of which he often bewails the lack. This down-to-earth sense is most obviously conveyed by the trove of lore which Salmo and various other locals share with Coote. More...

(The entire section is 779 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Rufus George Coote

Rufus George Coote, an English expatriate and engineer, a thirty-year-old man with prematurely gray hair and a black beard. He has purchased a farm in the remote village of Garaross in County Donegal, Ireland, to wait out World War II. Ironically, he bears the name of one of Oliver Cromwell’s generals and believes that he is living a double existence without control of his destiny. After several sexual affairs and minor social triumphs, he believes that he has become an integral part of the village life. In death, however, he learns that he has always been an outsider, both to himself and to others.

Hugh “The Proker” Donnelly

Hugh “The Proker” Donnelly, a farmer and one of Coote’s neighbors. Tall and thin, with an odd, permanently closed eye, he constantly feuds with Salmo and vows revenge for the death of his dog. The original source of his quarrel with Salmo dates to their teens, when they both desired and lost the affections of a village girl. When he believes that Coote is trying to take advantage of him, he provokes a fight and is killed inadvertently. Coote arranges his corpse to appear like the remains of some strange mystery.

Manus “Salmo” Byrne

Manus “Salmo” Byrne, another bachelor neighbor, with a bald, egg-shaped head fringed by fair, curly hair. Although he is large and imposing, he is actually a gentle soul who enjoys lying in a field simply observing nature. Arrested and jailed for Proker’s murder, he is innocent but feels oddly responsible for having wished the man dead. Once in jail, he deteriorates markedly, putting up no defense and wishing for his death. He has prescient powers and predicts the nature of Coote’s...

(The entire section is 717 words.)