Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Angels and devils

Irish tale weaves together religion, economy... and the diabolical

  • Print

The epigraph of The Devil I Know is the opening passage of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, a formidable chunk of Irish literature.

But reader, do not fear. What follows is not nearly so daunting.

Claire Kilroy's accessible and intriguing literary novel, her fourth, is a brisk, imaginative tale that dissects the boom-and-bust history of the last decade in her native Ireland, a corner of the world that has long successfully exported its stories and its characters.

But there is a diabolical influence here, glimpsed increasingly clearly as the story rushes along.

This is not the Ireland of Martin Sixsmith's Philomena, the recent hit movie in which the malevolent influence of the Roman Catholic Church extends even into the White House. Nor is it the Ireland of the novels of John Banville and his alter ego Benjamin Black, set under low-hanging psychic and religious gloom.

Rather, The Devil I Know portrays the church and history itself in full retreat, overwhelmed by the economic triumphalism of the Celtic Tiger, the Irish building boom fuelled in the early 21st century by hundreds of millions of borrowed euros. The money lenders have banished religious influence from the temple.

Of course that greed-fuelled international spree was unsupportable, and in fact it sparked the near-collapse of international financial systems in 2008.

This novel takes the form of testimony by Tristram Amory St. Lawrence, the 13th Earl of Howth -- his name and title echoing the passage from Finnegans Wake.

Tristram, as he is usually referred to, is appearing before an entity known only as the Commission, which is apparently investigating the economic calamity. These hearings take place in 2016, but most of the story rolls out in extended flashbacks from 2006 to 2008.

Like millions before him, our hero left Ireland to make his fortune elsewhere, but otherwise he is an oddball: a loner, an interpreter ("I do all the major European languages") who has erased himself in his work and his membership in Alcoholics Anonymous.

"One must hollow oneself out. One must make of oneself the perfect conduit. This is a trick I have mastered... They said my gift was uncanny."

Forced by an in-flight emergency to revisit Dublin, Tristram encounters friends and family who believe him dead. Indeed, a hospital has recorded his death, although not his resurrection -- an early hint that there are more things in this story than can easily be explained.

Tristram begins to receive new instructions from the shadowy M. Deauville, the consultant who has enabled his career. They communicate only by phone.

These tasks launch him as a financial manipulator, building the unstable footings of the short-lived economic miracle.

Guided by M. Deauville, Tristram quickly advances to handling hundreds of millions of euros in projects throughout Ireland and Britain, then into Asia. He participates in repeated bribery of a cabinet minister, and his new business friends exert growing pressure on him to resume drinking.

Occasionally, he wonders how all this could be natural. Then, when the gigantic financial fiction collapses, he must confront the real perpetrator.

Now, what does the Bible say about the love of money being the root of all evil?

 

Duncan McMonagle holds Canadian and Irish citizenship. He has met the devil from time to time, although never at Red River College, where he teaches journalism.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 G6

History

Updated on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 8:23 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jaws of life used to free two people after two-car collision

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • STDUP ‚Äì Beautiful West End  begins it's summer of bloom with boulevard s, front yards  and even back lane gardens ,  coming alive with flowers , daisies and poppies  dress up a backyard lane on Camden St near Wolseley Ave  KEN GIGLIOTTI  / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  /  June 26 2012
  • A golfer looks for his ball in a water trap at John Blumberg Golf Course Friday afternoon as geese and goslings run for safety- See Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge- Day 24– June 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What should the city do with the 102-year-old Arlington Street bridge?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google