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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

JOYST ADROOP IN THE BECKETT Sebastian Barry, The Engine of Owl-Light, Carcanet, £10.95

A young Irishman's exuberance, a real writer's skills, a delight in words, their textures, resonances, sibilances, their trickinesses, their powers, together with an awareness of what has befallen the firmness of the artistic line to render art self-conscious, almost embarrassed by its very artifice and fictionality: this is what goes into the making of the first novel of this author to be published in Britain.

The work is an interwoven fiction, pursuing six stories in twenty 'sixfoils' - 'an ornamental design (or opening) having the form of six leaflets or petals radiating from a common centre', OED - into a state where all disappears into its place of origin, the imagination, that world of the moonlit whose engine is owl-light - 'the dim light in which owls go abroad; twilight, dusk; also (in early use) the dark', OED - and whose motor is 'owl', the unseen but presumed-to-be present and constant something which threads all experiences.

Here all will slip back, away from the capturing or creating words. Out from the authorial imagination into its own space, its own unknowable self.

That is about the kind of language which one is tempted to use about the writing. We are faced with an inarticulate 'Irish' self, Moran, which has learnt a kind of English to tell its story in, and the person to whom he tells his story, Moll, is none other than the author who 'found it light enough to assume the character ...


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