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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996 | FICTION

THE LAST OF DEEDS & LOVE IN HISTORY By Eoin McNamee; Picador USA: 185 pp., $21

December 29, 1996|FRANK McCOURT

Look at any review of an Irish novel and you're likely to find the same worn adjectives--"charming" and "lyrical." But that's starting to change. Irish writers, north and south, are pushing into and beyond Beckett territory and none more so than Eoin McNamee. He [now] presents, under one cover, a pair of unforgettable novellas: "The Last of Deeds and Love in History."

Both stories will send the Northern Ireland Tourist Board into a frenzy of damage control. There is bleakness, blackness and murder here. The sun, when it makes a rare appearance, is a "great big bloody egg."

In "The Last of Deeds," the narrator, unnamed and Catholic, has a fling with a Protestant girl, Sharon. His pal, Deeds, tangles with [the son of] an all-powerful local businessman.

Such bare bones of a plot give no hint of McNamee's gift of language, his almost casual way with horror.

"Love in History" is set in 1944 at an RAF base south of Belfast. McNamee, born long after World War II, turns a powerful camera on a backwater of that war and his characters, American or Irish, are sketched with precise passion. If it's a tight tale of the back streets of Northern Ireland or a look behind the front lines of a world war that you're looking for, these two novellas will stay with you forever.

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