The novel follows Jack McNulty during his commission in WWII, a position that renders him a temporary gentleman. In 1957, sitting in his lodgings in Accra, he urgently sets out to write his story. He feels he cannot take one step further, or even hardly a breath, without looking back at all that has befallen him. McNulty’s experience of a torpedo attack opens the story on the Mediterranean. We are told in Barry’s introduction that it was his grandfather’s true experience which inspired this incredible story.
Excerpt from the text:
‘So for a moment of odd calm I stood there, one leg bare to the world, my cap still in place inexplicably, my self drenched so thoroughly I thought myself to be one hundred per cent seawater…Everything roared for that moment, the high night sky of blankening stars, the great and immaculate silver serving-dish of the sea itself, the rended ship, the offended and ruined men – and then, precipitatively, a silence reigned, the shortest reign of any silence in the empires of silence, the whole vista, the far-off coast, the deck, the sea, was as still for a moment as a painting, as if someone has just painted it all in his studio, and was gazing at it, contemplating it, reaching out to put a finishing touch on it, of smoke, of fire, of blood, of water, and then I felt the whole ship leave me, sink under my boots so suddenly that there was for that second a gap between me and it, so that wasn’t I like an angel, a winged man suspended.’
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