being adam golightly and the ferryman

being adam golightly

an account of how a middle-aged widower with kids has begun to rebuild not his life but a new one – ‘not the same life as before but just a bit crappier’, but something different

the account becomes a meta-account of how the act of writing about being a middle-aged widower with kids building a new life itself builds the new life; his persona ‘adam’ develops a depth, a mini-history – the writing becomes a way of processing the pain, both his own and that of his wife’s friends and family, who followed the course of adam’s grief every saturday morning in a national newspaper: turning himself inside out to the public, like a starfish, made darkness visible, scared the spooks; in short, helped

adam was advised to read his own column: ‘you might find this column in the guardian useful: the writer seems to be coping a little better than you’

the ferryman (gielgud theatre)

a victim of the ira is discovered in a bog, and his brother quinn, and his wife caitlin, are pressurised not to publicly blame the ira – the paramilitaries are on the verge of becoming respectable politicians, and this, well, might just knock the wheels off

a sprawling play – loads of characters, including lots of kids – 3 hours of drama – set in a massive farmhouse kitchen; by the end you feel as if you’ve read a novel

and the ‘ferryman’ is… the brother, who, by at the last minute lashing out and slashing the ira man, finally takes vengeance, and lets his brother rest (ferries his soul across the styx)

book 6 of the aeneid (and heaney’s obsession with it) is never far away; we get read to us the account of the souls kept on the wrong bank of the styx for 1000 years unless they are properly buried; but (and this has struck hit me) what we are really experiencing is the end of the poem, when aeneas kills turnus – let me explain:

  • the young pallas was entrusted to aeneas’ care
  • turnus killed pallas, stripped him, and wore his sword-belt as a trophy
  • the poem ends with aeneas and turnus fighting in single-combat
  • aeneas gets turnus to submit
  • turnus pleads for his life
  • aeneas is about to give in when pallas’ sword-belt flashes in the light; the pain of the memories this provokes makes him lash out and kill turnus, shouting ‘it’s pallas which kills you!’

in the play, in the final scene, the ira man has just ‘persuaded’ the brother and the wife to acquiesce to accept a compromise, and to deny any ira involvement in the killing; but then an ira-hanger on reveals a crucifix, just like one the dead man used to wear, which he took from another ira victim: this enrages the man’s wife, who attacks the ira man; in the ensuing mêlée the brother slashes the ira man with a razor

this explains the problem of the play’s sudden descent into hamlet-style ‘everyone-dies-ness’

how they are related

How you deal with a close bereavement is the topic, and both works tell us not to compromise: the dead live on in us, and our love for them should give us the confidence to do what is right by them. Adam’s methods are explicitly peaceable; Quinn Carney’s are not – the lesson here is that in The Ferryman the violence isn’t over: we are in an Aeschylean cycle of vengeance, pointed up by (my son’s observation that) the older characters have younger counterparts – it will all happen again with the next generation. The pen is mightier than the sword. The Ferryman ends as the Choephoroe, with Aunt Patricia staring at the window crying ‘They’re coming’ – the Furies of vengeance, in Irish banshee form.

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