There's a scene in the film, Thunderball, then played by Sean Connery, where Bond perceives that he is about to be shot while on the dance floor. He quickly whirls his dance partner around so that she takes the bullet. Then he manhandles her body to the side and drops it back into a chair at a table where others are sitting. He looks over at them, smiles reassuringly, and says, "Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead."
If you don't see the humor there, you can stop reading this review. The outlandish unlikelihood of this actually happening does not detract from the humor. The scene aptly illustrates what the James Bond movies were about--at their best. Death was all around and a constant object of Bond wisecracks, and the movies turn to gimmicky crap whenever they take life or death too seriously.
Which brings me to Adrian McKinty's protagonist, Michael Forsythe, in The Bloomsday Dead, who should be seen in the same spirit. Forsythe is an existentialist with a strong survival instinct and a dark sense of humor. The wry humor in his nonchalant observations endears him to the reader despite the outlandish Bond-like slapstick in the plot.
This is the third and final novel of the author's Dead series, which began with Dead I Well May Be and continued with The Dead Yard. The Bloomsday Dead takes its name, epigraph, time-frame, and chapter titles from James Joyce's works, including Ulysses--which of course takes many of its own plot lines and symbolism from Homer's The Odyssey.
McKinty's novel opens with references to Ulysses and naturally closes with them. In between are a number of allusions often in a humorous context. On a plane he finds them showing the Coen Brothers' own tribute to Ulysses/Odysseus, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
|The Sirens in O Brother Where Art Thou?|
Forsythe is well-read, and his musings often involve the classics, such as in this paragraph:
"The Atlantic, heaving silent and black five miles below us, and I dreamed of it, of words and things, of whale boats, barnacles, eye-patched Irish men, Leopold Bloom in and out of Dublin pubs, Starbuck and Scotchy and Siobban, all of them missing, and Ishmael's rescuer, the devious Rachel, seeking out her lost children, but only finding another orphan."
Of course that orphan was floating precariously atop a coffin, the knowledge of death deep in Moby Dick, as it should be. McKinty has Forsythe on hand in Dublin for the 100th Anniversary of the original Bloomsday and he sees the parade of Joycean characters. But from there he travels to McKinty's own Northern Ireland:
"Sunshine in Dublin. Rain in Belfast. How could it be otherwise? Each place within the city colorized by the greasy empire of Belfast rain. Every timber, stone, neck, collar, bare head and arm. The dull East Ulster rain that was born conjoined with oil and diesel fumes and tinged with salt and soot. . .That air redolent with violence and blood. And everywhere the reminders of six years of sectarian cold war, thirty years of low-level civil war, eight hundred years of unceasing, boiling trouble and strife."
"They say the air over Jerusalem is thick with prayers, and Dublin might have its fair share of storytellers, but this is where the real bullshit artists live. The air over this town is thick with lies."
The plot of the novel is driven by the love/hate relationship between Forsythe and Bridget Callaghan, who is described in mythic terms, for indeed at times she is the Eternal Feminine, an earth mother who is both creator and destroyer, and at other times she is more pointedly the mother country, an Ireland divided or united by strife or peace.
If you didn't see any deeper levels, this might seem a bit like that Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie movie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Any slapstick? Yes. Any outlandish melodramatics? Yes.
But is this novel worth your time?