The Temporary Gentleman- Sebastian Barry

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from the publisher (via netgalley) in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis (from amazon)

Jack McNulty is a ‘temporary gentleman’, an Irishman whose commission in the British army in the Second World War was never permanent. 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.

He is an ordinary man, both petty and heroic, but he has seen extraordinary things. He has worked

and wandered around the world – as a soldier, an engineer, a UN observer – trying to follow his childhood ambition to better himself. And he has had a strange and tumultuous marriage. Mai Kirwan was a great beauty of Sligo in the 1920s, a vivid mind, but an elusive and mysterious figure too. Jack married her, and shared his life with her, but in time she slipped from his grasp.


Every time I read a Sebastian Barry novel I hope that it will be as good as The Secret Scripture. So far I have been disappointed. Although I have still generally enjoyed and had an appreciation for his work it just hasn’t met up.

I’ve put a little note on my goodreads review of this (where I sometimes make a note before I write a full review) which says simply “That was rather… anti climatic…“. Which is true. The whole way through it seemed that something dramatic was promised in the future, in fact it was part of what made me keep wanting to read- to find out what it was. Something happened (in a way) but it was more of a consistent event rather than one dramatic thing, and it was only a the end that I realised that it was what Jack was referring to.

The book had two parts. A story of what was happening now, and a story of Jack looking back at what had happened before. The looking back bit was what made up the bulk of the story, and the most interesting bit, although at times it was rather too brief about events. In a way that was because we only saw things through Jack’s eyes, so when things were happening at home when he was not there we only saw what Jack was told or the snippets of what Jack saw. We didn’t see what was really going on. In a way that was rather frustrating, because some of the most interesting things seemed to come about when Jack wasn’t there, but at the same time it gave us a good insight into what Jack was feeling.

Mai was undoubtedly the most interesting character. It might have been better to see things through her eyes. Jack seemed to have very little real understanding of her. He saw her as a beauty, and as somewhat untouchable- or out of his league. There was a certain disappointment with the way she went from being when he met her as a young woman to being who she was when she was his wife. The two people seemed completely different. It was almost as if she gave up on her dreams in order to be his wife, although I am not sure if it was that so much as the effects that certain events had on her. I would really like to know. That’s one thing which was rather unsatisfying, we could never get any answers when it came to Mai…maybe that will come in a later book- after all there are a lot of books related to the McNaultys already.


Buy it:

Kindle (£5.39)

Hardback (£12.23)

Paperback- pre-order (£7.59)


Filed under Fiction review, Historical

3 responses to “The Temporary Gentleman- Sebastian Barry

  1. I do like Sebastian Barry and still have another book about this family tbr.


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