I’m uncertain why this novel originally appealed to me, calling out from the stacks of other unread books. Maybe it was random; maybe it was fate. Maybe I didn’t realize how little time I actually have to read. It was probably the back cover calling out the self-effacing Irish sensibility in me, something about the main character that made him exhibit, as the jacket states, “grand humour in the face of ultimate tragedy.”
What does that even mean? That he laughed while the planet exploded? That he drank a Guinness during the sinking of the Titanic? That he fooled his university English professor into thinking he knew the ins and outs of James Joyce’s Ulysses when he had barely gotten past page 10?
The story is about Patrick Gallagher, an expatriate and accomplished but eccentric rose horticulturist. He is invited to lead a garden tour of Ireland, but his journey becomes a spiritual pilgrimage full of pain and suffering in the grand Irish tradition as he comes back to face the ghosts that haunted him, forcing his retreat from his homeland.
This is an excellent example of a bittersweet homage, a fond recollection of a place that remains warm in your thoughts despite the fact that it brought a lot of pain. Kennedy’s writing is eloquent, to be sure, but he has this nasty long-windedness that makes me wonder who his editor was or if such a person even existed. Maybe this is too harsh, but some passages seemed to go on forever, prompting the belief that he is trying to groom himself as the new Joyce, a renegade craftsman who finds that words are more important than restraint or convention, and that a true artist makes his own path, proving to the world only at the end that he was right all along when everyone else tried to stop him.
By the way, that last 70-word sentence of mine was an example to illustrate his verbosity.
Looking past that, there is a wealth of rich culture and personality in the story that really spoke to me as a person of that heritage. Every time I pick up a book of this genre I feel connected to the protagonist even (or especially) if he is an unlikeable fellow. Part of the benefit of literature is giving the reader the chance to step into someone else’s shoes and see, if only briefly, that the world is a wide place filled with all sorts of people and that we aren’t all that different. This is Kennedy’s point of brilliance.
Climbing Patrick's Mountain
by Des Kennedy<br />Brindle & Glass<br />280 pages<br />$19.95