The Dream of the Celt

Mario Vargas Llosa

The Dream of the Celt

As The Dream of the Celt opens, it is the summer of 1916 and Roger Casement awaits the hangman in London's Pentonville Prison. Dublin lies in ruins after the disastrous Easter Rising led by his comrades of the Irish Volunteers. He has been caught after landing from a German submarine. For the past year he has attempted to raise an Irish brigade from prisoners of war to fight alongside the Germans against the British Empire that awarded him a knighthood only a few years before. And now his petition for clemency is threatened by the leaking of his private diary and his secret life as a gay man…

Vargas-Llosa, with his incomparable gift for powerful historical narrative, takes the reader on a journey back through a remarkable life dedicated to the exposure of barbaric treatment of indigenous peoples by European predators in the Congo and Amazonia. Casement was feted as one of the greatest humanitarians of the age. Now he is about to die ignominiously as a traitor. 3.4 out of 5 based on 15 reviews

The Dream of the Celt

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardcover
Pages 416
RRP
Date of Publication June 2012
ISBN 978-0571275717
Publisher Faber and Faber
 

As The Dream of the Celt opens, it is the summer of 1916 and Roger Casement awaits the hangman in London's Pentonville Prison. Dublin lies in ruins after the disastrous Easter Rising led by his comrades of the Irish Volunteers. He has been caught after landing from a German submarine. For the past year he has attempted to raise an Irish brigade from prisoners of war to fight alongside the Germans against the British Empire that awarded him a knighthood only a few years before. And now his petition for clemency is threatened by the leaking of his private diary and his secret life as a gay man…

Vargas-Llosa, with his incomparable gift for powerful historical narrative, takes the reader on a journey back through a remarkable life dedicated to the exposure of barbaric treatment of indigenous peoples by European predators in the Congo and Amazonia. Casement was feted as one of the greatest humanitarians of the age. Now he is about to die ignominiously as a traitor.

The Bad Girl byMario Vargas Llosa.

Reviews

The Independent

Jason Wilson

Vargas Llosa's literary realism seems so natural, with no lyrical outbursts, no pointless cleverness. His research is meticulous, whether through travel – Iquitos had already appeared in his fiction, but not the Congo, nor Ireland – or through libraries. But it is always embodied in plot and character. Most impressive is how he structures Casement's bifurcating paths, from the voice of conscience to the moving dialogues with the governor in Pentonville and with the Irish historian Alice Stopford Green. The narrator is self-effacing in the best Flaubertian tradition.

02/06/2012

Read Full Review


The Literary Review

Paul Bailey

The Dream of the Celt is a masterly novel of a kind that may be out of fashion in that its playfulness is buried deep in the characterisation of its central character. It’s a book that never draws attention to itself or delights in its own cleverness. This great writer’s heart is with the nineteenth-century giants he read as a boy – Balzac, Tolstoy, the Stendhal of Le Rouge et le Noir – and at his finest, which is pretty often, he has their scope.

01/06/2012

Read Full Review


The Daily Telegraph

Nicholas Shakespeare

Elsewhere in its restraint and concerns, The Dream of the Celt is the most Anglo-Saxon of Vargas Llosa’s fiction. Plus, in a period which has seen the Queen shake Martin McGuinness’s hand, and further City shenanigans, it feels contemporary. As Casement observed in his report on the Putumayo, “All these crimes were being committed by a British company whose board of directors included highly regarded Englishmen.” The novel’s most absorbing parts take place in the Peruvian Amazon under the lash of a dreadful overseer, Armando Normand, who was educated in England and possessed a diploma from the London School of Book-keeping. Normand – unlike Casement, whose diaries will condemn him – gets off scot free.

09/07/2012

Read Full Review


Times Literary Supplement

Tom Williams

Vargas Llosa has imaginatively created an inner life worthy of Casement’s extraordinary biography.

13/07/2012

Read Full Review


The Washington Post

Luis Alberto Urrea

This vibrant reimagining of history is also a brilliant exploration of conflicting moral claims. Who are the oppressors? Who are the truth-tellers? As always, Vargas Llosa remains a fiendishly clever teacher.

24/07/2012

Read Full Review


The New York Times

Liesl Schillinger

The Dream of the Celt,” felicitously and faithfully translated by Edith Grossman, feels anomalous when contrasted with the rest of Vargas Llosa’s vast, pliable oeuvre; it’s unusually straightforward and information-packed … It may not have been necessary, however, to defend all of Casement’s decisions in order to applaud his great and wrongly overlooked contribution to the quest for human dignity.

22/06/2012

Read Full Review


The New Yorker

.

Vargas Llosa's sympathetic portrait is dense with historical detail–no ship or hotel goes unnamed–but skates over major turning points in a sentence or two …

09/07/2012

Read Full Review


The Guardian

Giles Foden

The narrative is framed (and also interspersed) with an account of Casement's imprisonment in Pentonville awaiting his appeal; that is the notional "now" of the book that disturbs or is disturbed by a series of competing episodic presents. A tighter temporal focus might have made for a novel that more easily assimilates such a bulk of material. Parts struggle to contain a proliferation of expository detail and qualifying reference.

08/06/2012

Read Full Review


The Daily Telegraph

Ian Thomson

While the novel is often absorbing, its shifts in chronology are at times laboured, and the dialogue correspondingly creaky (“Branded like animals? Can that really be true?”). The subject of Casement’s homosexuality is delicately handled, however, as Vargas Llosa seeks to cast doubt on the authenticity of the so-called “Black Diaries”, in which Casement supposedly chronicled his furtive gay encounters. Even today an air of disapproval hangs over Sir Roger Casement; this passionate if occasionally patchy novel will help to rehabilitate a maligned man.

31/05/2012

Read Full Review


The New Statesman

Maurice Walsh

The most vivid scenes in the book are set in the Congo or the Amazon ... But the rest of the novel rarely matches the animation of these scenes. Casement’s story is told through a series of flashbacks during his last days at Pentonville Prison that are too often weighed down by a punctilious, dutiful chronology that is redolent of the indiscriminate recording of a statesman’s memoir and only occasionally achieves the exciting imaginative engagement with a life that Vargas Llosa has managed in so many of his other novels.

13/06/2012

Read Full Review


The Evening Standard

Melanie McDonagh

The difficulty with Casement, as with any attempt to give an imaginative account of a historic figure, is that most of us know what happens next. So what does a Latin American bring to the party? Well, he gives a good and plausible account of Casement’s humanity, which is the business of the novelist, and his tortured sexuality and religious sensibility, ditto. He moves between Casement’s last days in Pentonville and his time in the Congo and Brazil, and the narratives close together with the  Republican rising and his execution. But there is, inevitably, a clunking quality to the attempt to fill in the historical backdrop.

31/05/2012

Read Full Review


The Financial Times

Ángel Gurría-Quintana

One of the most controversial elements of Casement’s story was the publication of the Black Diaries, in which he allegedly entered details of his various homosexual encounters. They were circulated anonymously while Casement awaited a reprieve from execution, and contributed to public opinion turning against him. Scholars still argue about their authenticity. Vargas Llosa has concluded that they were written by Casement but may have been a record of imagined dalliances. It is a shame that this crucial facet of Casement’s contradictory personality is so cursorily dealt with by the author, whose taste for the epic and the melodramatic too often gets in the way of any psychological complexity.

02/06/2012

Read Full Review


The Observer

Julius Purcell

With raw material like this, we might have hoped for something like Pat Barker's Regeneration series, a gripping account shorn of historical cliches and bringing an era vividly to life. But Vargas Llosa hobbles his story from the start. Compelling moments are spoiled by clumsy exposition and a stubborn adherence to the mantra of tell-don't-show. "The same old story. The never-ending story," reflects Casement wearily at one point, a lament many readers might share. Vargas Llosa opts for repeatedly depicting similar atrocities, rather than selecting the illuminating detail.

29/07/2012

Read Full Review


The Times

Roy Foster

The minor inaccuracies about Irish affairs, and the idea that Casement’s background was in some way aristocratic, hardly matter: fiction can have a free hand in such matters. (In fact, he became a shipping clerk at 16 and then a ship’s purser, before employment by commercial companies active in Africa.) What sinks it are the laborious disquisitions of background information, the over-burdened detail and a style hovering between A Child’s History of the Congo and a Mills & Boon romance.

26/05/2012

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

Peter Kemp

It is a let-down to find that, despite subject matter that is vibrant with potential, this novel largely reads like an exercise in anaesthesia. Narrating most of the story as retrospect deadens immediacy. Repetition is another drawback. Informed that Casement “was very tall and slim, with deep grey eyes, curly black hair”, we’re reminded only pages later that he was “very tall, slim, with intensely black hair and…deep grey eyes”. Dull lists are another drowse-inducing feature.

27/05/2012

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore