Vastly entertaining and outright hilarious, Paul Murray's debut heralds the arrival of a major new Irish talent. His protagonist is endearing and wildly witty-part P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster, with a cantankerous dash of A Confederacy of Dunces' Ignatius J. Reilly thrown in. With its rollicking plot and colorful characters, An Evening of Long Goodbyes is a delightful and erudite comedy of epic proportions.
Charles Hythloday observes the world from the comfortable confines of Amaurot, his family estate, and doesn't much care for what he sees. He prefers the black-and-white sanctum of classic cinema-especially anything starring the beautiful Gene Tierney-to the roiling and rumbling of twenty-first-century Dublin. At twenty-four, Charles aims to resurrect the lost lifestyle of the aristocratic country gentleman-contemplative walks, an ever-replenished drink, and afternoons filled with canapes as prepared by the Bosnian housekeeper, Mrs. P.
But Charles's cozy existence is about to face a serious shake-up. His sister, Bel, an aspiring actress and hopeless romantic, has brought to Amaurot her most recent-and to Charles's mind, most ill-advised-boyfriend. Frank is hulking and round, and resembles nothing so much as a large dresser, probably a Swedish one. He bets on greyhounds and talks endlessly of brawls and pubs in an accent that brings tears to Charles's eyes. And, most suspiciously, his entrance into the Hythlodays' lives just happens to coincide with the disappearance of an ever-increasing number of household antiques and baubles.
Soon, Charles and Bel discover that missing heirlooms are the least of their worries; they are simply not as rich as they have always believed. With the family fortune teetering in the balance, Charles must do something he swore he would never do: get a job. Booted into the mean streets of Dublin, he is as unprepared for real life as Frank would be for a cotillion. And it turns out that real life is a tad unprepared for Charles, as well.
- Costa Book Awards
If Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster were plopped into the 21st century, his adventures might resemble those of Charles Hythloday, the buffoonish hero of Murray's insouciant romp, shortlisted for the Whitbread. For three years, ever since his father died, 20-something Charles has been pottering around the family's crumbling seaside estate near Dublin, mixing himself gimlets and watching old movies. He sees himself as attempting to perfect sprezzatura, "the contemplative life of the country gentleman, in harmony with his status and history"; his formidable sister, Bel, and everyone else, however, view him as a shiftless drunkard, and Charles's own narration leaves little doubt whose judgment is more accurate. The reappearance of Charles's mother, who's been away at a clinic for alcoholics and is now determined to reform the rest of the family, means that his allowance is promptly cut off and he's required to get a job. This proves to be predictably difficult (a tech recruiter says, " 'So in short, Charles, it's fair to say you've never worked for a living, is that right?' "). Meanwhile, the family's Bosnian housekeeper smuggles her grown-up children into the country, and Bel starts a theater company at Amaurot with the housekeeper's striking daughter, Mirela, who's much too clever for smitten Charles. Murray's blend of drawing-room comedy and postindustrial hilarity is deft and jaunty, and well-timed snippets of foreshadowing keep the story moving briskly. If the characters occasionally seem too broadly drawn, they always operate in service to the novel's witty and satirical aims. This is a breezy, highly entertaining read.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 12, 2005
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Excerpt from An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray
A black wind was blowing outside the bow window. All afternoon it had been playing its tricks: scooping up handfuls of leaves and flinging them over the lawn, spinning Old Man Thompson's weather vane this way and that, seizing rapaciously at Bel's ruby leather coat as she battled down the driveway to her audition. Now and then, from the rear of the house, I would hear it shriek through the bones of the Folly, and I'd look up from the TV with a start. If this were Kansas--I remember thinking--it might have been the beginnings of a terrible Twister; but this wasn't Kansas, and what the wind blew in was worse than witches or winged monkeys. For today was the day that Frank arrived at Amaurot.
It was after four but I was still in my dressing gown, recuperating on the chaise longue in front of an old black-and-white movie that starred Mary Astor in an array of hats. I'd been out the night before with Pongo McGurks and possibly overdone it a little, insofar as I'd woken up on the billiard table with a splitting headache and wearing someone else's sarong. By now, though, I was feeling much better. In fact, I was feeling particularly at one with the world, supping at a bowl of special medicinal consomme that Mrs. P. had made for me, thinking that no one wore a hat quite like Mary Astor--and then I caught my first sight of him, it: a large, vaguely humanoid shape shifting about behind the glass frieze that looked onto the hallway. It didn't fit any of the shapes that should by rights have been there--not Bel's slender figure, nor Mrs. P.'s squat domestic trapezium: This shape was bulky and distended, grotesquely so, like one of those self-assembly IKEA wardrobes I'd seen advertised on TV. I raised myself up on my elbows and called out: "Who's there!"
There was no reply; and suddenly the figure was gone from the glass. I put down my consomm? with a little sigh. I am not so vain as to think myself, in the general run of things, any more heroic than the next fellow; still, a man's home is his castle, and when Swedish furniture decides to have a wander through it, one must take the appropriate measures. Tying the belt of my dressing gown and picking up the poker, I stole over to the drawing room door. The hallway was empty. I cupped a hand to my ear but heard only the sound of the house itself, like an endless exhalation of air echoing between the high ceilings and wood floors.
I was beginning to think I must have imagined it; but I seemed to remember someone telling me about a rash of break-ins recently, so just to be certain, I continued down the hall. There were plenty of nooks in which a miscreant could hide. Holding my poker at the ready in case he tried an ambush, I checked the library and the recital room--slowly twisting the knob, then swiftly thrusting open the door--to find nothing. Nothing lurked behind the Brancusi Janus; no one loomed beneath Mother's sprawling poinsettia. On an impulse I tried the double doors of the ballroom; they were locked, of course, as they always were.
Relieved, I was on my way to the kitchen to have a cursory look around and also to see if there was anything by way of biscuits to follow the consomm?, when a noise came from behind me. I spun round just as the door of the cloakroom burst open--and there, lumbering toward me, was the hideous Shape! Without the benefit of frosted glass between us, it was even more gruesome--my nerve quite failed me, the poker freezing midswing--
"Charles!" cried my sister, ghosting up suddenly at the Thing's shoulder.
"Haugh," the Thing snarled, before I recovered my wits and caught it a good blow on the temple, sending it tumbling to the floor with a thud which rattled Mother's china collection clear in the next room.
There was a moment of silence. Outside the house the wind snapped and howled.
"God, Charles, what have you done?" Bel said, hovering apprehensively over the stricken beast.