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Friday, February 10, 2017

Fools of Fortune (1983) by William Trevor


Book Review
Fools of Fortune
 by William Trevor

  I feel like the Anglo Irish aristocracy is dramatically over-represented in the original 1001 Books list.  Even granting Irish status as the first "colonial" environment and the attendant proposition that Ireland was also the location of the first "post-colonial" literature, the Anglo Irish (as supposed to the Irish themselves) were at best a highly parasitic bunch of land barons.  That they produced excellent novelists is no surprise, since they were both wealthy enough to have the time, energy and education to write and they were also semi-despised outsiders who were ultimately largely expelled.

  Still, when you compare the 20th century Irish colonial experience to places in Africa and Asia, the Irish tend to come bottom of the table. Consider that as of 1983, the 1001 Books list has not a single book by a Chinese speaking author and the first novel on the list ABOUT China is Empire of the Sun, by J.G. Ballard.   Meanwhile, I count as many as 15 novels on the original 1001 Books list that come from Anglo Irish writers.   I'm not counting the books of IRISH authors like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

 Fools of Fortune is such a late example of the Anglo Irish experience that it almost reads as an exercise in historical fiction.  He traces the fortunes of a very liberal Anglo Irish family through the story of Louis, a child at the beginning of the book.  His family owns a mill, but is relatively unique in that the father and family going back two generations are supporters of Irish independence, to the point where the Grandfather had given away his ancestral estate to the farmers- a highly unusual act.

     The action picks up during the time of "the troubles" during and after World War I, where a sometimes brutal war of independence was waged and the English behaved, and were treated like, an occupying army.  Louis' father learns this the hard way, when he is murdered by a "Black and Tan" in reprisal for his support for the Irish independence movement, embodied by Michael Collins, who appears in Fools of Fortune as a minor character.

      The murder of Louis' father at the hands of the English occupying forces sets in motion a series of events one might expect from a 20th century novel, leavened somewhat by a love story between Louis and his English cousin, Marianne. What seems to be a highly Louis centered narrative suddenly switches half way through, as we learn about events from the eyes of Marianne, Louis' beloved.

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