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Sebastian Barry

The Temporary Gentleman

Sebastian Barry The Temporary Gentleman
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Biographical note:

Sebastian Barry has won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year Award and the Walter Scott Prize. His work has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He is the author of five previous novels and lives in Ireland.

Excerpt from book:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
 
Copyright © 2014 by Sebastian Barry


Chapter One

 

‘It’s a beautiful night and no mistake. You would never think there was a war somewhere.’

These less than prophetic words were spoken by a young navy second lieutenant, on the wide, night-bedarkened deck of our supply ship, bound for Accra. He was a tubby little man, whom the day’s sun had scorched red. Happy to hear an Irish accent I asked him where he was from and he said, with that special enthusiasm Irish people reserve for each other when they accidentally meet abroad, Donegal. We talked then about Bundoran in the summer, where my father had often brought his band. It was a pleasure to shoot the breeze with him for a few moments as the engines growled on, deep below.

The cargo was eight hundred men and officers, all headed for various parts of British Africa. There was the noise of the little parliaments of the card-players, and the impromptu music-halls of the whisky drinkers, and true enough a lovely mole-grey air moved across the ship in a beneficent wave. We could see the coast of Africa lying out along a minutely fidgeting shoreline. The only illuminations were the merry lights of the ship, and the sombre philosophical lights of God above. Otherwise the land ahead was favoured only by darkness, a confident brushstroke of rich, black ink.

I had been in an excellent mood for days, having picked the winner of the Middle Park Stakes at Nottingham. Every so often, I stuck a hand in my right pocket and jingled part of my winnings in the shape of a few half-crowns. The rest of it was inserted into an inside pocket of my uniform – a fold of lovely crisp white banknotes. I’d got up to Nottingham on a brief furlough, having been given a length of time not quite long enough to justify the long trek across England and Ireland to Sligo.

France had fallen to Hitler, and suddenly, bizarrely, colonies like the Gold Coast were surrounded by the new enemy, the forces of the Vichy French. No one knew what was going to happen, but we were being shunted down quickly to be in place to blow bridges, burst canals, and break up roads, if the need arose. We had heard the colonial regiments were being swelled by new recruits, thousands of Gold Coast men rushing to defend the Empire. I suppose this was when Tom Quaye, though of course I didn’t know him then, joined up.

So I was standing there, flush with my winnings, not thinking of much, as always somewhat intoxicated by being at sea, somewhat in love with an unknown coastline, and the intriguing country lying in behind. I had also about a bottle of Scotch whisky in me, though I stood rooted as a tree for all that. It was a moment of simple exhilaration. My red hair, the selfsame red hair that had first brought me to the attention of Mai, for it was not I who said hello to her first, but she, with her playful question in the simple neat quadrangle of the university, ‘I suppose you put a colour in that?’ – my red hair was brushed flat back from my forehead, my second lieutenant’s cap holding it down like a pot lid, my cheeks had been shaved by my batman Percy Welsh, my under-clothes were starched, my trousers were creased, my shoes were signalling back brightly to the moon – when suddenly the whole port side of the ship seemed to go up, right in front of my eyes, an enormous gush and geyse

A stunning new novel from the two-time Man Booker shortlisted author of The Secret Scripture
 
In this highly anticipated new novel, Irishman Jack McNulty is a “temporary gentleman”—an Irishman whose commission in the British army in World War II was never permanent. Sitting in his lodgings in Accra, Ghana, in 1957, he’s writing the story of his life with desperate urgency. He cannot take one step further without examining all the extraordinary events that he has seen. A lifetime of war and world travel—as a soldier in World War II, an engineer, a UN observer—has brought him to this point. But the memory that weighs heaviest on his heart is that of the beautiful Mai Kirwan, and their tempestuous, heartbreaking marriage. Mai was once the great beauty of Sligo, a magnetic yet unstable woman who, after sharing a life with Jack, gradually slipped from his grasp.
 
Award-winning author Sebastian Barry’s The Temporary Gentleman is the sixth book in his cycle of separate yet interconnected novels that brilliantly reimagine characters from Barry’s own family.


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