Leon Uris came to the fore as a storyteller in the 1950’s after writing such massive and well-researched works as Battle Cry and Exodus. He spent a great deal of time researching Trinity as well, while his wife, Jill, gathered photographs for her pictorial essay Ireland: a Terrible Beauty, for which Uris wrote the prose.
Trinity is the story of Conor Larkin, an Irish Catholic from a tenant farming family who becomes embroiled in the political situation of Ireland around the turn of the century. It is also a recounting of how the civil war in modern Ireland came into being, with a fairly clear explication of the motivations of each segment of the population that is involved in the war—the native Irish Catholics, the immigrant Protestant Ulstermen, and the British aristocracy.
The novel is divided into seven major parts, each introduced by a map. Although the maps are not necessary to an understanding of the action, they do lend an aura of verisimilitude to the format. Each of these major parts is divided into chapters, which are further divided into scenes. The separate scenes within the chapters are related to one another, but the chapters do not necessarily follow chronologically. Often, in fact, the locale alters considerably from chapter to chapter, and new characters appear whose relationship to the storyline is often difficult to perceive immediately.
Uris draws all of these threads of the story together and weaves them into a relentlessly powerful saga. It is a sweeping narrative, very popular in style, with enough characters to flesh out history bolstered by sufficient verifiable facts to maintain credibility, the essence of historical fiction. But it is as a fictional work that Trinity shines. There are times when the narrative is slow or the development of a character uneven or the dialogue improbable, but these are minor problems.
There are two structural flaws, however, that detract more seriously from the storyline. The first, fairly early in the work, is the use of the supernatural appearance of an old man to impart to the child Conor Larkin the history of the Irish struggle in general, and particularly the Larkin family’s important role in it. While such background information is important to the development of the action, and while the author may find it important to clue the reader as to the significance of mysticism in Irish life, his device fails to be convincing as part of a historical novel. The reader is not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the old man’s story, but puzzled by the use of the old man to tell it.
Later in the work Uris uses a nightmare to extricate himself from a predicament of his own making. The logical conclusion to the events that he has presented at one point would move Larkin out of Ireland and into a happy marriage. Uris conjures up Larkin’s conscience garbed in another character to appear to him in a dream and speak to him of his Irishness. Larkin as a consequence makes a complete and total about-face to become a full-fledged revolutionary and give up all else. It is not in the least convincing.
Much of the flavor of the novel results from Uris’ use of language. It is an odd mix of modern-day swearing and Gaelic lilt with just enough solid prose to keep those readers unaccustomed to Celtic phrases from losing their way. Many of the verbs are contrived from nouns—one is not placed in a casket, one rather is “casketed”—but the overall effect is usable if occasionally anachronistic.
The work seems to end abruptly, as though Uris were suddenly exhausted. Such an eventuality could be quite understandable, for in addition to presenting to his readers an enthralling story, he has also managed to provide information on any number of sidelights to the Irish lifestyle—wakes and kelp gathering, peat cutting and flax harvests, folkways and superstitions—in a dazzling array.
Lamentably, Uris’ recounting of history is fairly linear, and though intrinsic to the work, is less effectively presented than the story which is woven around it. Social commentary, perhaps outright propaganda, is an integral element of this historical presentation. Each of the three factions in the political war is examined, but the native Irishmen obviously have thé sympathy of the author. Uris does manage to a great degree to avoid the depiction of the Irish as the quaint folk of the popular stereotype, but he cannot resist the image of an innocent and poetical people provoked to acts of violence by their greedy and unfeeling neighbors. During one scene, as the Irish Republican...
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