Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Dream Of The Celt

The dashing Sir Roger
Mario Vargas Llosa's The Dream Of The Celt is a novelisation of the life and death of Sir Roger Casement. Casement has needed a bold novelistic treatment for some time, but unfortunately this prim little book from the 2010 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature is not it - as I shall explain below. Casement was a fascinating multilayered character who was a champion of human rights in the Congo and Peru and who, as British Consul, wrote famous reports on the atrocities he found in Africa and South America. Casement gradually grew to hate colonialism in all its forms and became a convert to the cause of Irish Nationalism around the time of the First World War. Attempting to smuggle guns into Ireland from Germany (in a disastrously ill conceived plan) he was captured by the Irish police, turned over to the British and hanged as a traitor. 
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Born of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother in Dublin, Casement (like Oscar Wilde) grew up in darkest Ulster. Unlike Wilde Casement was an energetic and unashamed gay man who recorded his adventures in the famous "black books". The black books read like a less funny version of the Orton Diaries but apparently they still have the capacity to shock for Vargas Llosa seems disgusted by them and is convinced that they were faked by British Intelligence to discredit Casement. (This is a venerable but pretty much disproven idea). As a result of Vargas Llosa's discomfort and avoidance of the wild polyamorous homosexual aspect of Casement's psyche The Dream Of The Celt presents Sir Roger as a strange, rather dull, saint of a man. Although the lives of some Irish Saints make compelling reading (St Patrick and St Brendan come to mind) unfortunately this book falls flat as a work of art. I did enjoy the rich South American scenes in Dream of the Celt but the great Vargas Llosa's hetero machismo (or perhaps just his novelistic imagination) has let him down badly here I'm afraid. 
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More on the interesting life of Sir Roger Casement, via Wikipedia, here.