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James Hanley: An End and a Beginning

After a gap, we are back to the Furys, the final one in the series. It is now fifteen year later and Peter is being released from prison. His parents – Fanny and Denny – are both dead. We don’t learn how but it seems that they were shot in Ireland, soon after they returned there. The rest of the family is still as it was. Desmond is an alderman in Gelton and still on the way up. Anthony is still in China. Maureen is still with Slye up in Yorkshire and Kilkey is old and struggling. But, of course, it is Peter who has changed the most. He has not forgotten Sheila, Desmond’s wife, with whom he had an affair. However, he has lived apart from people for so long that he is unable to cope with them.

When he gets out, he is met by the Prisoner’s Aid Society but he declines their help, though they do thrust five shillings into his hand. From there he wanders aimlessly around Gelton, finding only help from the St Vincent Paul Society. He meets Kilkey but they argue and he moves off. He plans to emigrate to America but then he is tracked down first by Sheila, who tells him to go to her family’s home in Ireland and then he is tracked down by Desmond but he has no better luck with him than with Kilkey. In short, he is unable to relate to any human being.

Much of the book takes place in the run down old home of Sheila’s family in Ireland. The home even has its own Mrs. Danvers. Though the wonderfully named Miss Fetch is not quite as sinister as Mrs. Danvers, she is clearly in love with the owner (Sheila’s father who now lives in London) and has been in the house forty years and sees herself as its protector. Not much happens in Ireland but both Peter and Sheila go over the past in their mind. Peter, for example, recalls how he killed Mrs. Ragner, giving us details which we had not seen before. In short, both try to come to terms with what they have been through and where they are going, both individually and together. They clearly fail at the latter and don’t do too well at the former. All the while, Miss Fetch suffers and moans, sharing her woes with the postman. Eventually, both of them move on – on their own – leaving Miss Fetch to the run down house and the postman.

Publishing history

First published 1958 by Macdonald