The Temporary Gentleman
The novel follows Irishman Jack McNulty during his commission in the Second World War, a position that renders him a temporary gentleman. Opening the story on the Mediterranean, McNulty is caught in a torpedo attack – a story that, as we are told in Barry’s introduction, was based on the true experience of the author’s grandfather.
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. An iron ladder full of men, from God knows where, maybe even from inside the ship, or from the side of the command deck more likely, with about a dozen calling and screaming persons clinging to it like forest monkeys, moved past me as if it were a trolley being wheeled by the demon of this attack, and crossed the ravaged deck, and pitched down into the moiling, dark sea behind. 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.