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Critical Review Of Carn By Patrick Mccabe

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Critical Review: Carn

The novel Carn, by Patrick McCabe, is a thought-provoking tale of people from a town in

Ireland. The town, Carn, goes through economic failure, complete industrialization and commercial

revival, back to total desolation. As the town changes, so do the main characters, Josie Keenan and

Sadie Rooney. Although they do not know each other at the beginning of the novel, after the

indulstrialization of the town, their lives eventually intersect. All they want from life is to lead normal

lives — outside of Carn. Even though Carn is now an industrial town, it holds bad memories and a

sense of imprisonment for Josie and Sadie. Both their lives become tied to the town of Carn. Sadie

plans 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’s

destructive lifestyle and the political conflicts between England and Ireland result in tragedy for both

characters. McCabe does an excellent job at developing the characters of Josie, Sadie, and the

town of Carn itself. He shows the futility of their hopes, which ultimately results in tragedy and

despair. The reader can relate to the characters, and by the conclusion of the novel, the reader will

feel as if s/he knows the characters personally.

Josie Keenan lives a life without hope. The author does a good job of providing insight into

Josie’s life by informing the reader of everything that effects Josie from the beginning of her life, right

until the end. Living with an abusive father has made Josie believe that no one is good, and everyone

is only looking for what they can gain from others. The only kind words she has ever received are

from her mother. Even this source of happiness is taken from her though, because her mother dies

when Josie is young. She moves from an orphanage right into the working world, and into a world

of 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 [sees] now that there [is] nothing

she [can't] do with [men] (49).” She takes men’s money and does with it as she pleases. She

“[takes] the bus to a town across the border where she [sits] on her own in a cafe listening to a

jukebox and eating ice-creams (51).” Soon, however, this path leads to destruction. Her whole life

becomes devoted to drinking alcohol and pleasing men. She is disgusted with what she has become

and tries to blot out her pitiful life with alcohol. She sees how awful her life is when “The protection

of the drink and the drugs [begin] to wear off (145).” The only good influence in Josie’s life is her

lone friend Sadie. In the end, though, not even this makes a difference. An overdose of pills mixed

with alcohol kills Josie before Sadie can reach her. McCabe is very pessimistic, and he gives this

quality to his characters. Little by little, as the book progresses, Josie looses her mind. The author

allows the reader to see Josie’s thoughts, which aides in understanding a demented person. The

effects of abuse, sexual exploitation, and alcohol are seen in Josie’s character. The reader feels pity

toward Josie and the outcome of her life. McCabe does an excellent job of characterizing Josie


The character of Sadie Rooney is also a sad and hopeless one. McCabe relates the reader

to Sadie through stories of Sadie’s childhood dreams. When she was a child “…she loved Elvis

Presley. She would have gone anywhere with him… (23).” Readers can identify with Sadie’s love of

movie starrs and desire for a better life. As her life progresses, however, her hopes are dashed

when she becomes pregnant and must raise a family in the town she hates, Carn. When she learns

of her pregnancy, she “[feels] nothing” and says, “That’s it then (115).” She is bitter, yet resigned to

the fact that nothing she planned ever came to pass. Nothing can affect her any more, because her

life is already terrible. Eventually, her husband becomes involved in a murder, and she is hated by

the 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 the

reader is that all of life is bad, and there is nothing that can be done to improve it. He uses clear

characterization to get this point across to the reader. The character of Sadie vividly demonstrates

this idea.

Carn itself is a character. Although it is a town, it goes through a life cycle. Life for Carn

begins 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 feel

spawns from the desolation of Carn. McCabe makes the reader feel as if they have actually visited

this town on the border of Ireland. After the reader travels there, they too can feel the emptiness

that results. The author characterizes the town through the words of other characters. Some believe

that Carn “is the best wee town in Ireland. I mean, you have everything you want here (61).” That

is the problem for many. They want to experience new and exciting things, yet they are restricted to

the 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 in

Carn, 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. Carn

cannot escape the tragedies of life. Its moment of prosperity is ended, and all the characters return

to the sad, hopeless states that all people are destined to reside in. McCabe is an extremely talented

author to be able to give an inanimate object its own character, and to do it well. Carn is an

excellent example of a well-developed character.

McCabe’s views of life are demonstrated by the lives of Sadie and Josie, and the town of

Carn. McCabe’s characters’ lives are replete with suffering and sorrow, and they all react with bitter

resignation. Sadie, Josie, and Carn are resigned to accept their fates – Sadie’s, involuntary life in

Carn; Josie’s, debauchery and death; and Carn’s, economic desolation. Carn is very well written

and is a wonderful book. However, not everyone will enjoy it. There is a considerable amount of

history involved in it, so people who enjoy history will benefit from it. It is also very depressing, so

readers who love happy endings will be disappointed with the conclusion of the story. For these

reasons I did not enjoy reading this book, however I do understand the literary merit that is

displayed by McCabe. The story line and characters are well developed, and it is an interesting

story. I recommend it to anyone who is learning about the conflicts in Ireland, or to anyone who

likes to get to know fictional characters in a personal way.