An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul MurrayMonday 16 Jun 2003
Hamish Hamilton, €13.99
Imagine, if you will, PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster crossed with Will from Nick Hornby's 'About a Boy', and you have conjured up Charles Hythloday, the main protagonist of Paul Murray's debut novel 'An Evening of Long Goodbyes'.
Charles is old beyond his 24 years, a bumbling fogey with no job and a penchant for old black-and-white movies and an odd bottle or five of fine wine. He refers to his Bosnian housekeeper, Mrs P, as "the help" and spends his day holed up in his crumbling ancestral home, Amaurot, which he shares with his younger sister Bel somewhere between Dalkey and Killiney. But don't let that put you off. Charles is a fascinating, unique and comical character and the story of his and Bel's struggle to find their way in the real world is both heart-warming and humorous.
A chain of events that has far-reaching consequences for these two siblings is set in motion by the arrival of Frank, Bel's new boyfriend, on the scene. Charles has never approved of Bel's string of unsuitable men but Frank is the worst by far - he believes him to be a shifty, shady character - and when furniture goes missing from Amaurot, Charles is convinced Frank is behind it. But before he can unmask Frank for the lowlife he assumes him to be, the bank announces that it is repossessing their house. With his father dead and his mother away in a private clinic with her nerves, Charles had failed to notice the unopened final demands building up in the String Drawer which holds the family correspondence.
Fearing he could lose all that is dear to him, Charles is forced to take drastic action. He enlists the help of the postman-cum-private detective MacGillycuddy to implement a heroic plan to save Amaurot, Bel and ultimately himself. However, all is not what it seems and Charles' life takes a most unexpected turn.
In 'An Evening of Long Goodbyes', Murray puts a completely new spin on upper class Irish society. Despite the absurdity of his situation, Charles is used by Murray not to satirise but to demonstrate that, circumstances aside, human beings are all alike. The reader sees everything through Charles' eyes and as a result we realise that, even if we initially believe that we have nothing in common with this man, we share similar needs and fears and also the same flaws - too quick to trust our preconceptions of others and even ourselves.
By the end of this cleverly written book, Charles has learned many valuable lessons - none more so than while your home may be your castle, it is the people in your life that are its riches - but he never once makes any apologies for who he is or for the way he leads his life and that's how it should be. However, he is more accepting of life's realities and all its complexities and, although he might not be all that happier, at least he is living.