Durling, Or The Faithless Wife by Sean O’Faolain, 1974
The magic trick:
Almost passively creating a vivid portrait of a strong female lead character
This is a strange story to get a handle on. I’m struggling. It’s a romance. It’s a story about faith and religion. It’s a story about Ireland. It’s a story about a woman. I think for me it is the character of Celia that resonates the most. And I think it’s the way her character shines through that is most interesting as far as story construction, magic-trick talk.
The story angles slightly toward the man’s point of view. The reader is given access to many of his theories about love and most of his plans regarding this affair. As a result, even as it is a third-person narration, the story feels like Ferdy’s story. It helps too that he is very self-assured, very confident, very knowing about how love works and how to win Celia’s heart and possess her life. So you’ll be forgiven if it sneaks up on you that this truly is Celia’s story. Ferdy becomes almost a caricature of the French romancer. Celia is the one who acts counter to her desires, considers other people, other needs and other responsibilities. She is complicated. He is simple. By the end of the story, the reader feels as if they know her far more than they know Ferdy, despite the illusion of a male bias throughout. And that’s quite a trick on O’Faolain’s part.
Ferdy clasped his hands behind his head, stared up at heaven’s pure ceiling and heard her weeping like the summer rain licking his windowpane. He created a long Irish silence. He heard the city whispering. Far away. Farther away. And then not at all.
“And to think,” he said at last, “that I once called you a realist!”
She considered this. She, too, no longer heard the muttering of the city’s traffic.
“This is how the world is made,” she decided.
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