By Benedict Kiely
Proxopera is about a family held hostage by the IRA while the grandfather is forced to drive a car bomb to his local town. The novel anticipated one of the most distressing tactics employed during the Troubles - the proxy bomb.
“…I see there my town, and all its people, Orange and Green, and the post office with all its clerks and postmen and red mail vans,and the town hall and its glass dome and everybody in it —from that fine man, my friend, town clerk, or mayor, for forty-odd years, down to the decent tobacco-chewing man who swabs out the public jakes in the basement, my people, my people. Under that glass dome I played as a young man in amateur theatricals, the Coming of the Magi, the Plough and the Stars, the Shadow,God help us, of a Gunman, and the return of Professor Tim and the Monkey’s Paw and the shop at Sly Comer and Look at the Heffernans, and all the talk and all the harmless posturing and laughter, my people.” (pp.77-78)
“The pistol, really touching his head, pushes him towards the car. His son stands silent, chained in the market-place amid the gathering multitude that shrank to hear his name, men without hands, girls without legs in restaurants in Belfast, images of Ireland Gaelic and free, never till the latest day shall the memory pass away of the gallant lives thus given for our land…. These mad dogs have made outrage a way of life. To the wheel, to the wheel, to the wheel, time’s ticking away, in the town the church bells are ringing, Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, all calling people away from each other to get them in the end by various routes, variis itineribus to the home in the heavens of the same omnipotent, omnipresent Great Father with a long white beard, but why not unite here and now and not wait for then, come all to church good people good people come and pray, and the angel of death is at the wheel or on the wing, and ye know neither the day nor the hour.” (pp.56-57)
By kind permission of Mrs Frances Kiely, through the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency.
The novel develops the contrast between the sense of community in a small town and the aspirations of paramilitaries to unite Ireland politically through violence, the abuse of those communities and the violation of their civic character.
“I first met him on the evening of July 18, 1979 at the Wellington Park Hotel, when he came up from Dublin to promote his novella, Proxopera (he signed and dated my copy). Forty-eight hours earlier, the IRA had forced their way into a house in Fermanagh and held a family hostage overnight while they set a landmine to kill soldiers passing along the road from Lisknaskea to Rosslea. They detonated the bomb, prematurely it seemed, killing a devout 32-year-old Protestant woman, Sylvia Crowe, who worked in the Faith Mission bookshop in Belfast and had been waiting for a bus after visiting her family. The IRA gang then fled across the Border, where their stolen getaway cars were found.
Proxopera is about a family held hostage by the IRA while the grandfather is forced to drive a car bomb to his local town, which in the geography of Kiely’s book would have been 30 miles away from the spot where Miss Crowe was killed. He had been reading the story of Sylvia Crowe in the Belfast Telegraph, where I worked, just before we met. He must have wondered at the coincidence of arriving in Belfast two days after the plot of his newly published novella had been re-enacted.”
The Irish Independent
“nearly flawless as a piece of literature”
“a small masterpiece”
William J Kennedy
“Proxopera is a deceptively subtle and dextrous piece of writing”
Gerald Dawe, The Ireland University review
“It would be hard to call Kiely a political writer; his principal gifts are lyricism, exuberance, and appreciation for beauty. But his stubborn refusal, in these stories, to countenance political motivations and agendas amounts to a political statement in its own right”
Brooke Allen, New Criterion
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