There is whiskey but no cocoa, Guinness but no tea; or only a sort of bitter dust which, when brewed, does nothing to pep up the mornings. Fog enshrouds bicycles in Merrion Square, a squally rain drives along the promenade at Clontarf; by night, bombs drop 'by mistake' on Dublin. It is the time of the Emergency, as Ireland calls what others call World War Two. Neutrality is precarious. England casts an envious eye on Irish ports. Civil servants - scowling old IRA men, who once counted rifles and now count paperclips - draw up plans for when the Germans walk in and become the de facto power. Who is dropping the bombs? Is it the Germans, or is it the English, aiming to discredit the Germans? Half-hidden in the murk engendered by censorship, turf smoke and the fog which is the habitual climate of the novel, mysterious parcels of rumour are passed from hand to hand, faint carbon copies of government memos seep information into the air, armed men loom out of a sea mist, blackmarketeers scurry and wheedle, dissident journalists cry into their beer, smuggled condoms spring leaks. Erwin Schrödinger, the renowned physicist, rubs his sore eyes, sight deteriorating day by day, and contemplates the boggy hinterland of his private life, while the mathematical breakthrough he seeks swims further away from his tentative reach.
LRB 7 July 2005 | PDF Download