Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty 

Dublin in the 1920’s. Post war of independence. Post civil war. A charismatic and ruthless leader of a left wing revolutionary organisation. Social disintegration. Vice and drug addiction. Idealism, and betrayal. Love and murder. Such are the components of Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer.

The novel begins with gunman Francis Joseph McPhillip, returning to Dublin for the first time since murdering the leader of the Farmers Union the previous October during a farm labours strike. It is now mid March and McPhillip has spent the previous five months hiding out in the Wicklow Mountains. He returns to Dublin with a price on his head and suffering from consumption.

It is just before six in the evening and McPhillip seeks out his old comrade Gypo Nolan in the Dunboy Lodging House in Dublin. Gypo is an ex-policeman who accompanied McPhillip on many exploits. Together the two were known as The Devil’s Twins.

Gypo has fallen on hard times. After the murder of the president of the Farmers Union he was expelled from the Revolutionary Movement. He is homeless, penniless and but for the opium addicted Katie Fox, friendless.

Seeing that his old comrade is desperate to return to his family, Gypo sees an opportunity. He sets up McPhillip, telling him his all is well, his parents house is safe, the police have long ago given up keeping watch. They part and immediately afterward Gypo informs the Police of McPhillip’s arrival in Dublin and his subsequent location.

Armed with this information the authorities surround the McPhillip family home and Francis McPhillip is killed while attempting to escape. For providing information which leads to the death of his old comrade, Gypo Nolan receives the grand sum of £20, quite an amount in the Dublin of the time.

From here the man focus of the novel is Gypo, the informer. Gypo suddenly realises the full extent of his actions. He is outside society. He was dismissed from the police force, expelled from the Revolutionary Organisation and now has betrayed his friend. It would be no exaggeration to say that Gypo, through his actions, has found himself on the very margins of society.

One of the most fascinating characters in the novel is Commandant Dan Gallagher. Intelligent, brave, charismatic, ruthless, Gallagher will stop at nothing to bring about his goal which is the bringing the about of an armed revolution. But first Gallagher is more concerned with catching and dealing with the informer. When Gallagher and Gypo meet, their clash of personalities and subsequent outcome, is outstanding.

It soon becomes apparent that O’Flaherty knows the criminal underbelly of Dublin and the people who reside there. At times the descriptions of the city mirror the inner turmoil his characters endure. While his detailed retelling of a drunken Gypo’s time spent in a bordello is both colourful and memorable. So vivid and recognisable are its characters and descriptions of Dublin that reading The Informer now it is hard to appreciate that it was first published in 1925.

The Informer is not an easy read, but it is a memorable one and may best be described as being an expressionist novel. All the action takes place over twelve hours which may account for it’s relentless intensity. The Informer by Liam O’Flaherty without doubt deserves to be read by as wide an audience as possible.


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