Book review – “The Temporary Gentleman” by Sebastian Barry

A book currently on my TBR (soon!) list is the latest novel by Sebastian Barry, one of my favourite authors. Since reading Days Without End a few years ago, I have loved every one of his books that I have picked up and I am sure his latest will be equally special. I have particularly enjoyed the family saga approach he has taken to many of his novels. Listening to him speak at a recent online event (what a wonderful man, I adore him – he would be my fantasy dinner party guest), he talked about mining the resources of his own family and other families he was familiar with to find the powerful stories of ordinary people. For many Irish people, particularly those living in the first half of the last century, there are indeed powerful stories, and Barry gives a voice to the trauma and suffering that many experienced for multiple complex reasons.

In The Temporary Gentleman, Barry tells the story of Jack, the third of the McNulty brothers (we heard the story of one in The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, and, more obliquely, Tom in The Secret Scripture). Jack is perhaps the son his mother was most proud of, for seemingly having made something of himself: leaving Sligo to go to university in Dublin, getting a profession as an engineer, and marrying the beautiful Mai Kirwan, daughter of the local doctor and therefore of a higher social standing than he might reasonably have hoped to achieve. 

When his father-in-law retires and Jack and Mai take up residence in the handsome family home, their seemingly perfect lifestyle (and marriage) begins to crumble. The root of the problem is Jack’s uncontrolled drinking and gambling habits which soon lead them into debt and shame. Worse, his neglect of Mai impacts on her mental health and she too enters a spiral of emotional decline.

The novel is told from Jack’s point of view. He is narrating his story while working as an engineer in Ghana. Here he is ‘the temporary gentleman’, with a servant, a status he feels he does not deserve. He looks back on his life, reflecting on events and in particular the impact of his choices and his behaviour on Mai. The pain and regret he experiences is palpable and Barry manages to explore this with compassion and a sense of shared trauma.

This is yet another powerful novel from Sebastian Barry. He explores similar themes to the other McNulty family novels, but with each individual’s story he gives it a new twist and a fresh perspective. I would love to go back and read the stories of the other two brothers again because each sibling is referred to as well as their partners. 

Highly recommended.

Author: Julia's books

Reader. Writer. Mother. Partner. Friend. Friendly.

4 thoughts on “Book review – “The Temporary Gentleman” by Sebastian Barry”

  1. Thanks for the information and advice! It’s super nice to see other fellow readers supporting the bookworm community like this:) Thanks a lot! I love reading book reviews and will prob read all these books just o relate to your opinions. Either way, thanks a lot for uploading ❤

    Have a jolly day, Peni.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I’m so glad I saw your post. I read and loved Days Without End a few years ago and had lost track of Sebastian Barry. Now, after reading your review here, I’m interested in the McNulty books – should I read them in order? I love this kind of book! Thanks for the review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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