Critical Review: CarnThe novel Carn, by Patrick McCabe, is a thought-provoking tale of people from a town inIreland. The town, Carn, goes through economic failure, complete industrialization and commercialrevival, back to total desolation. As the town changes, so do the main characters, Josie Keenan andSadie Rooney. Although they do not know each other at the beginning of the novel, after theindulstrialization of the town, their lives eventually intersect.
All they want from life is to lead normallives — outside of Carn. Even though Carn is now an industrial town, it holds bad memories and asense of imprisonment for Josie and Sadie. Both their lives become tied to the town of Carn. Sadieplans to move to England, but when she becomes pregnant she must stay in Carn and raise a family.
A lack of options forces Josie to remain in Carn, the only home she knows. Eventually, Josie’sdestructive lifestyle and the political conflicts between England and Ireland result in tragedy for bothcharacters. McCabe does an excellent job at developing the characters of Josie, Sadie, and thetown of Carn itself. He shows the futility of their hopes, which ultimately results in tragedy anddespair.Order now
The reader can relate to the characters, and by the conclusion of the novel, the reader willfeel as if s/he knows the characters personally. Josie Keenan lives a life without hope. The author does a good job of providing insight intoJosie’s life by informing the reader of everything that effects Josie from the beginning of her life, rightuntil the end. Living with an abusive father has made Josie believe that no one is good, and everyoneis only looking for what they can gain from others.
The only kind words she has ever received arefrom her mother. Even this source of happiness is taken from her though, because her mother dieswhen Josie is young. She moves from an orphanage right into the working world, and into a worldof men. Because she does not have a strong father figure in her life, she looks for love else where. Men love her body, and she loves the control this gives her.
Josie now that there nothingshe do with (49). She takes men’s money and does with it as she pleases. She the bus to a town across the border where she on her own in a cafe listening to ajukebox and eating ice-creams (51). Soon, however, this path leads to destruction. Her whole lifebecomes devoted to drinking alcohol and pleasing men. She is disgusted with what she has becomeand tries to blot out her pitiful life with alcohol.
She sees how awful her life is when The protectionof the drink and the drugs to wear off (145). The only good influence in Josie’s life is herlone friend Sadie. In the end, though, not even this makes a difference. An overdose of pills mixedwith alcohol kills Josie before Sadie can reach her. McCabe is very pessimistic, and he gives thisquality to his characters. Little by little, as the book progresses, Josie looses her mind.
The authorallows the reader to see Josie’s thoughts, which aides in understanding a demented person. Theeffects of abuse, sexual exploitation, and alcohol are seen in Josie’s character. The reader feels pitytoward Josie and the outcome of her life. McCabe does an excellent job of characterizing JosieKeenan. The character of Sadie Rooney is also a sad and hopeless one.
McCabe relates the readerto Sadie through stories of Sadie’s childhood dreams. When she was a child . . .
she loved ElvisPresley. She would have gone anywhere with him. . . (23). Readers can identify with Sadie’s love ofmovie starrs and desire for a better life.
As her life progresses, however, her hopes are dashedwhen she becomes pregnant and must raise a family in the town she hates, Carn. When she learnsof her pregnancy, she nothing and says, That’s it then (115). She is bitter, yet resigned tothe fact that nothing she planned ever came to pass. Nothing can affect her any more, because herlife is already terrible.
Eventually, her husband becomes involved in a murder, and she is hated bythe people of Carn. McCabe gives readers a definite idea of Sadie’s views on life. Her life is awful,but she knew it would be from the very start. The point that the author is trying to convey to thereader is that all of life is bad, and there is nothing that can be done to improve it.
He uses clearcharacterization to get this point across to the reader. The character of Sadie vividly demonstratesthis idea. Carn itself is a character. Although it is a town, it goes through a life cycle. Life for Carnbegins with prosperity, changes to ruin, becomes industrialized again, and then finally returns to dust. Carn effects the other characters in tremendous ways.
The desolation that the other characters feelspawns from the desolation of Carn. McCabe makes the reader feel as if they have actually visitedthis town on the border of Ireland. After the reader travels there, they too can feel the emptinessthat results. The author characterizes the town through the words of other characters. Some believethat Carn is the best wee town in Ireland.
I mean, you have everything you want here (61). Thatis the problem for many. They want to experience new and exciting things, yet they are restricted tothe commonplace in Carn. They can go Nowhere but Carn. Carn–the beginning and the end(62). Carn is the beginning and the end for both Sadie and Josie.
It is Regular as clockwork(62). Nothing changes. Carn manages to get rid of the young ones (107). People feel trapped inCarn, and yet few can escape. It is analogous to an evil force that has a hold on everyone living in it. Even though Carn is the evil in people’s lives, life in general is the ultimate negative power.
Carncannot escape the tragedies of life. Its moment of prosperity is ended, and all the characters returnto the sad, hopeless states that all people are destined to reside in. McCabe is an extremely talentedauthor to be able to give an inanimate object its own character, and to do it well. Carn is anexcellent example of a well-developed character. McCabe’s views of life are demonstrated by the lives of Sadie and Josie, and the town ofCarn. McCabe’s characters’ lives are replete with suffering and sorrow, and they all react with bitterresignation.
Sadie, Josie, and Carn are resigned to accept their fates – Sadie’s, involuntary life inCarn; Josie’s, debauchery and death; and Carn’s, economic desolation. Carn is very well writtenand is a wonderful book. However, not everyone will enjoy it. There is a considerable amount ofhistory involved in it, so people who enjoy history will benefit from it.
It is also very depressing, soreaders who love happy endings will be disappointed with the conclusion of the story. For thesereasons I did not enjoy reading this book, however I do understand the literary merit that isdisplayed by McCabe. The story line and characters are well developed, and it is an interestingstory. I recommend it to anyone who is learning about the conflicts in Ireland, or to anyone wholikes to get to know fictional characters in a personal way.