Book Review: The Lieutenant Of Inishmore

The Lieutenant Of Inishmore, by Martin McDonagh

Admittedly, this is the first play by the author I have read, and so I did not really know what I was getting into when I started.  I do enjoy reading plays from time to time and admittedly I have at least some interest in Irish history [1].  This is a play that must have been quite funny to see–I can imagine many people laughing at the farcical elements of the plot and not thinking too deeply about the larger meanings and relevance of the work.  As a piece of literature, this play is certainly not a “major” one and it is unlikely to be long remembered except by those who enjoy Irish theater.  In fact, it would be fairly easy to suggest that without some knowledge and interest in Ireland that this play is simply not going to be more than an excuse to laugh at the Irish, and though this is a play that asks to be laughed at, there is a dark edge to it as well that is worth reflecting on.  Definitely a tragicomic work, a great deal of this work depends on a certain sense of surprise and so I will attempt not to ruin it.

In that light it would be good to spend at least a little bit of time looking at the context of this play and what it means, even without discussing the play in too much detail.  The play opens ominously with the death of the death of the cat of one Padraic, a mad local Irishman who is away engaged in the casual torture of a drug pusher when the play begins.  This play is full of twists, and there is a lot of comedy in the attempts of the characters to cope with their impending disasters, with only the titular lieutenant (a title given to himself by himself) being unaware of their rapid demise.  There is a lot of irony in the attempts of people to cover up the death of Padraic’s cat or to profit from it by putting him off balance, since it is recognized that he loves his cat more than any people.  After a rapid pace of bloody action, the play is brought to a shocking close with a sense of casualness that is breathtaking.  It was certainly breathtaking to me and may be to you as well if you don’t see this coming, although there are hints that would clue you in if you pay attention to them.

Overall, I feel somewhat torn in my appraisal of this play.  It appears, for one, that the author is someone who enjoys making fun of his homeland but is not a moralist.  The moral criticism to be found here is of the implicit kind, and it seems that the largest point the author has is a criticism of the Irish to be so divided against themselves.  If the author is a genuine Irish patriot, he can be said through his tragicomic play and its course to point out that the Irish are most dangerous to themselves and that if Ireland is to rise then it is going to need to be less divided against itself.  This play is full of isolated and somewhat sociopathic loners, and people without a regard for human or animal life, and that sense of division and isolation and the willingness to view neighbors and family members as unworthy of life gives the play a rather ugly sense of brutality.  There may be some people who find that amusing, but I find it rather unpleasant and unsettling.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: The Lieutenant Of Inishmore

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Lie Of The Mind | Edge Induced Cohesion

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