Ireland is famous for bestowing nationality on its distant brethren. JFK was given an ecstatic ‘welcome home’ to Wexford 115 years after his great-grandfather emigrated; a generation later, the country’s football team was built on men with often the slenderest of links to the green, white and orange. There is a difference, however, between an expedient adoption and true absorption, as Barnabas, the protagonist of Paul Lynch’s second novel, discovers when he returns to Donegal, his county of birth, after growing up and making a bit of money in America.
When we join him in 1945, he and his Irish-American wife, Eskra, have been in Donegal for over a decade, but he is still considered a ‘local stranger’, a man with blood ties but no real understanding of the place. It’s an assessment that he inwardly shares – he never