The Judas kiss

Treason and betrayal in six modern Irish novels

Author: Gerry Smyth

This book argues that modern Irish history encompasses a deep-seated fear of betrayal, and that this fear has been especially prevalent throughout Irish society since the revolutionary period at the outset of the twentieth century. The author goes on to argue that the novel is the literary form most apt for the exploration of betrayal in its social, political and psychological dimensions. The significance of this thesis comes into focus in terms of a number of recent developments – most notably, the economic downturn (and the political and civic betrayals implicated therein) and revelations of the Catholic Church’s failure in its pastoral mission. As many observers note, such developments have brought the language of betrayal to the forefront of contemporary Irish life. After an introductory section in which he considers betrayal from a variety of religious, psychological and literary perspectives, Gerry Smyth goes on to analyse the Irish experience of betrayal: firstly through a case study of one of the country’s most beloved legends – Deirdre of the Sorrows; and secondly, through extended discussion of six powerful Irish novels in which ideas of betrayal feature centrally - from adultery in James Joyce’s Ulysses, touting in Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer and spying Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day, through to writing itself in Francis Stuart’s Black List, Section H, murder in Eugene McCabe’s Death and Nightingales and child abuse in Anne Enright’s The Gathering (2007). This book offers a powerful analysis of modern Irish history as regarded from the perspective of some its most incisive minds.

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‘[…] the greatest compliment that one can pay a book: that it opens the way to further thinking. I certainly hope that this book initiates the kind of wide-scale reconsideration of the role of betrayal in Irish culture (and beyond), the potential richness of which Smyth proves in Judas Kiss.'
James Alexander Fraser
Modernism/modernity, Volume 23, Number 1
January 2016

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