Recoil from Disorder: David Ireland’s The Chantic Bird
Through a narrative wholly committed to the viewpoint of a character often both repelling and alarming, an enclosure that can seem stifling, Ireland yet evokes ambivalent reactions in the reader, eliciting dissociation and prompting recoil yet also something more positive—not endorsement but at least some underlying assent to the perceptions of the narrator. The ambivalence springs, I think, from the complex relationship Ireland establishes between narrator and society. In his generally valuable introduction to the novel, Adrian Mitchell refers to the 'social context' in a way that implies this is a minor, almost peripheral element in the novel. The nature of the society from which the narrator has recoiled I think is a crucial determinant of his role and of his values: the narrator is socially explicable and not some sort of grotesque phenomenon as some reviewers have implied. Through the interplay of past and present in the narrator's consciousness and through the nature of his society, Ireland generates a complexity of reader reaction that precludes any simple dismissal and suggests that, rather than a psychopath gratuitously waging war, his narrator is in some way a product and an emblem of his society.
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