Thy Tears Might Cease Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere
A Time of Troubles
It is a troubling time for letter carriers, for those who read books on their half hour lunch breaks, and those who do not. Covid-19 has introduced a novel set of problems for mailmen who indulge in novels and those who don't, via a parcel load that has exploded and a virus that has exploded, replacing dog anxiety with the worry of which customers approaching you on the street might be infected with a disease other than rabies. Some postal customers still foam at the mouth during Covid.
The pandemic could be called a time of troubles, so it might be appropriate that a story about another time of troubles, now a century removed, would be on this mailman's lunchtime reading list. Curiously enough, the backdrop of the current selection, Thy Tears Might Cease, is the Irish time of troubles. That chapter of your unread history book shook beautiful Hibernia around the same time that our last large global pandemic, the Spanish Flu, was spreading its deadly fingers around the globe.
So Thy Tears Might Cease was a very timely read, but one that certainly could not get me accused of literary escapism. There is no escape from this virus, and there was no escape for the book's protagonist, Martin Reilly, as he fled from the abusive hands of the Black and Tans, a gang of officially-sanctioned thugs chasing him down Dublin back alleys and across the landscape of lovely Eire. Does the nation's name rhyme with ire? I'm not sure, my gaelic is none too good, but Michael Farrel's novel has certainly opened my eyes to the fair share of suffering the emerald aisle has endured.
Faithful Lunchtime Lit readers, if such a group exists, know that my reading choices come from a variety of sources - books I've borrowed, books I've stolen, books I have actually bought. Thy Tears Might Cease was among the latter. I dug deep this time, purchasing the title on Amazon on the recommendation of a hub pages colleague. She calls herself RoadMonkey, a mysterious moniker that stems from the subject of her doctoral research. This highly educated lady pointed me toward this book, and in so doing opened my eyes to an area of history I had altogether neglected, to my own detriment. I thank her for that.
Lunchtime Lit Rules
Even during the present Covid-19 time of troubles, there is no extended sheltering in place for Lunchtime Lit books. All the titles reviewed here go into quarantine at work after Mel's authorized half hour postal lunch break, they are never given a stay at home order that might cause the asymptomatic spread of the viral ideas within them, via the vector of home readings not authorized under current CDC guidelines.
Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap
A Suitable Boy
Death is a Lonely Business
The Casual Vacancy
Thy Tears Might Cease
**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.
*Twenty-six other titles, with a total estimated word count of 5,680,655 and 872 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.
Historical Fiction - Fact or Fiction?
But please do not get the idea that Thy Tears Might Cease is a historical novel, because it is not. It is a novel of the human condition that could have taken place anywhere, at any period of history. This is the quality that makes it appeal to all people, in all lands, at any random spot on the calendar. Even its editor Monk Gibbon said "...it is not an historical novel. It is an intensely personal and subjective one, linked throughout to the consciousness of a single individual."
Perhaps spurred on by Thy Tears, I was musing the other evening whether a thing called a historical novel actually exists. After all, the two root words involved, history and novel, seem mutually exclusive - history being a studied interpretation of documented facts, and novels recounting events that take place only in the imaginations of their authors and readers. After this brow furrowing session of philosophical hair-splitting, I concluded that either every novel set in the past is a historical novel, or that there is no such thing as a historical novel. You try the same pointless thought experiment in your own head, then let me know what you come up with.
In my own opinion, fiction authors that attempt real history may as well just write history books. If it takes someone 20 years to research a tale, then he or she is missing the point of fiction altogether. That hack belongs in a tweed suit, smoking a pipe in some stuffy academic department somewhere, not in the role of storyteller. I think that guy Monk Gibbon above said it best. For a novel to hit home, to relate to its readers, it must be "intensely personal...", and "linked throughout" to the consciousness of one or more of its characters.
Michael Farrell's book does not get bogged down in academic minutiae. If he gets bogged down at all, it is in the quaint details of daily life in an Irish family. True, he does relate an interesting interpretation about Ireland's role in World War I and the subsequent time of troubles of the Irish revolution, but he does not overwhelm us with it. So if one has to categorize Thy Tears Might Cease, let us do so as Bildungsroman, a coming of age tale in which the protagonist gradually progresses from simple innocence into shocking, eye opening reality. By gradual phases of disillusionment, protagonist Martin Reily's soul is sullied, evolving from unquestioning faith in Catholic doctrine to unblinking atheism, from blissful ignorance about his past to the disquieting revelation of his parentage, from loyal subject of the British King to passionate Irish rebel and Sinn Fein operative.
The story unveils on twelve year old Martin, a more or less happy orphan living in his aunt's house, where he has accepted his lot in life even though he is ridiculed by his Uncle for reading too much, and for having something of the girl in him. When the curtain opens we see him anxiously awaiting the Christmas waits, a band of wandering minstrels that played outside people's windows in the early morning. A devout child, the lad reverently and enthusiastically serves as an altar boy to the good Father Riordan. Such is the idyllic innocence of the scene that the reader yawns a bit, wondering if and how the boy-scout goodness of Martin Reilly is going to change into something that gets the pulse moving a little.
The descent from an untroubled Christmas morning into the inevitable corruption of the human experience takes a while to gather momentum, and occurs so unexpectedly that it stuns the unwary reader. First there are unspoken innuendos of homosexuality in the relationship between Martin and his best friend Norman. Then there is the sexual depravity of a priest who attempts to abuse Martin. The crass destruction of his poetry by the same depraved priests at school then turns our hero from faith to disbelief. His true sexual desire is finally awakened when he falls in love with a young lady from Dublin's working classes, but the suit is ultimately rejected because the woman does not wish to share him with Ireland, to whom he has devoted himself in writing and in action. Along the way Martin sees his friends, schoolmates, and family members suffer and die in the Great War and the concurrent local struggle against the covetous British Empire. In the book's closing pages awaits the final eye-opener, the truth about Martin's parents, the truth about his own legitimacy.
Therefore, Thy Tears Might Cease is the story of a boy who painfully grows into manhood, during which period he comes to realize that the soothing fictions of his youth are the property of the slave hearts, not of the proud, spirited, independent thinker he styles himself. As such, we could have parachuted Martin Reilly down into a multitude of nations, cultures and religions, with the same outcome.
An American's Exposure to Irish History
Although my thesis remains that Thy Tears Might Cease is not a historical novel, I cannot deny it awakened me to the subject of Irish history. In the grand scheme of things, the humble, isolated Emerald Aisle seems to get swallowed up by bigger places, nations involved in bigger conflicts with effects that reverberate around the globe. But the Irish diaspora has certainly reverberated around the globe as well. There are Irish everywhere the British touched down on the planet, and many places they did not. Living practically on the Mexican border, I even encounter Irish surnames among people in Tijuana. Sometimes you see a stray Kennedy or Riley pop up among the masses of Lopez and Ramirez. These thoroughly assimilated folks might not remember they are Irish, but they are.
Assimilated Americans don't remember they are Irish either, but the US is nonetheless chock full of of Irish descendants. Almost everybody here has got a wee bit of the Irish in them, you could say. Somewhere in my background, I am supposed to have Irish in the stew as well. Therefore, though I consider myself a well-read lad, it is surprising and inexcusable that I know so little about Irish history. It is equally appalling that up until now, I really did not care.
That attitude has changed. Since reading Thy Tears Might Cease, I have been in a frenzy of googling, digging up the pots of gold of Irish history that were previously stashed from me by some hoarding leprechaun. Here are a few fun filled facts I stole from the end of that rainbow, thanks to Michael Farrell, working vicariously through fellow hubber RoadMonkey:
For one thing, I learned that those who hailed from Hibernia did not represent a monolithic block of resistance against British rule. Prior to World War I, British loyalists were still a prominent, perhaps a dominant part of the Irish political scene. When war against Germany erupted in Europe, thousands of Irish followed England into the conflict without much prompting. Thousands of Irish died on the battlefields of Flanders and the blood soaked sites of other carnages. It was only after the Easter uprising of 1916, with its resulting mass execution of rebels, that the majority of Irish men and women fell in line for independence behind Sinn Fein. Let this be a lesson to all great empires who try to bully their weaker neighbors into subjugation, and instead find only alienation of affection.
I also knew nothing about the infamous Black and Tan, except that it was a trendy pub drink. Now I know a good deal more about those cruel cronies of the crown, those destructive dogs who carried out brutal reprisals against non-combatants, burning houses and crops, torturing and murdering those suspected of aiding and abetting Sinn Fein. A wee little lass from Limerick by the name of Dolores O'Riordan, now dearly departed, recounted the persistent echoes of the Time of Troubles in the 1994 song Zombie. Those effects linger (another song by her group), into the present, with the unresolved issue of Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly Thy Tears Might Cease continues to be relevant, a century after the events depicted in the book.
Lunchtime Lit Pointless, Posthumous Hall of Fame Revisited
Woefully, Michael Farrell never celebrated any long-term impacts that his one and only novel produced. For that matter, he didn't enjoy any immediate benefits either. Thy Tears Might Cease was a process of life-long tinkering for the author, who never turned in the book for publication. It was only after his death that his poet friend Monk Gibbon submitted the book to its publisher.
As such, Farrell has gained membership into an elite fraternity of authors who did not live to profit, emotionally or financially, from their most famous work. I title this lackluster litany the Lunchtime Lit Pointless, Posthumous Hall of Fame. Pointless, because if you are a nihilist who believes that consciousness is snuffed out at the time of death, it seems rather pointless to write a great book and never receive accolades for it.
I don't know if I'm a nihilist or not, but I'm not going to take up any more valuable cyber space repeating the list here. If you wish to see it, go to my profile at hubpages.com/@melcarriere and scroll down 19 articles or more to the one on Moby Dick. You will find the table toward the bottom of that review. It now includes 8 writers, great and mediocre, out of 31 reviewed on Lunchtime Lit (25.8%). The phenomenon is frighteningly common, much worse than the odds of catching coronavirus, an unsettling statistic for those of us writers who would like to enjoy the fruits of our efforts while still breathing.
Michael Farrell's history is of a man who never really tied up loose ends. Born the son of a Catholic shopkeeper in Carlow town, before the time of troubles he pursued medical studies but became distracted by revolutionary politics, a hobby which landed him in Mountjoy prison. After the war he resumed his education, but left Trinity College in Dublin without graduating. Thereafter he worked in the Belgian Congo as a superintendent of customs, then departed Africa to take up employment for Radio Eireann, while simultaneously receiving notoriety as a reviewer of dramatic works. Somewhere along the line he began writing his magnum opus, Thy Tears Might Cease, a big literary baby with a gestation period exceeding twenty years. The book was eventually accepted for publication, but then underwent excruciating editing labor pains, which eventually left it dying in the womb alongside Michael Farrell. Says Farrell's poet friend Monk Gibbon:
"Financial sanctions might have been applied...But neither they nor any other form of pressure would have made Farrell disgorge his book. It was not ready for publication. It was not yet the work of art which he wished it to be."
Monk Gibbon resurrected the work, and in so doing kept his friend from departing from us unsung, in complete obscurity. This posthumous editor wound up cutting 100,000 words from Thy Tears Might Cease. We might say he butchered Farrell's baby, rendering the abandoned waif into a form the author may have found unacceptable. But at least the book was rescued from its progenitor's imprisonment, or freed from quarantine, to use an analogy more appropriate for our present condition. In so doing Gibbon gave the world a treasure that would have otherwise remained buried. But how much of it was Farrell, how much was Gibbon, and would the original creator have approved of its makeover? The answer remains a mystery, buried with the novelist.
Ringing Music From The Anvil of a Man
The Time of Troubles is a specific period in Irish history, true enough, but we can say that life on this planet, for every man and woman across its expansive face, is an alternating cycle of hardships and happiness. Every person's life is an historical novel, it could be said, an eye-opening coming of age crucible, in which the innocence and purity of youth is eventually replaced with the disillusionment and cynicism of adulthood.
Thy Tears Might Cease paints a perfect picture of this process, and I leave you now with the closing words of Michael Farrell's one and only literary work, a statement which sums up his general theme more neatly than I could:
He stepped on then, and his bearing was not without dignity, as he moved through the shade of his prison house, seeking at long last the old hammer of reality which might yet ring music from the anvil of a man.— Michael Farrell, Thy Tears Might Cease