Conflict Within and Without

Title: The Martyr
Author: Liam O’Flaherty
Genre: Depressing Historical Fiction
Pages: 216
Rating: 3 of 5

This fictionalized account of the capture of a small town in Ireland requires a basic understanding of the Irish Civil War. The edition that I read included a basic overview in the introduction, but my knowledge of Irish history was sketchy enough that I had to supplement from Wikipedia.

This falls into the “War is stupid and depressing and twists people into something ugly” category of war fiction rather than the “honor, heroism, and glory!” variety. O’Flaherty examines the character, motivations, and ideologies of people on both sides of the brother-against-brother conflict. Characters range from a vengeful atheistic communist soldier of fortune to a pacifistic religious officer with a martyr complex (both on the same side) and every shade of zealotry, nationalism, and religiosity in between. There is as much conflict within most of the characters as there is between characters (pacifism vs. patriotism, vengeance vs. love, faith vs. fear, etc.)

After a lot of angry disillusioned “ugliness and heartbreak of civil war and macho soldiers” stuff, the story devolves into an increasingly outrageous faith vs. atheism confrontation which ends with neither side in a particularly flattering light. I appreciated the book for a look at a part of history I hadn’t read about before and for some astute observations about the darker side of human nature, but it certainly wasn’t an enjoyable read.