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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Sad Bastard

Hugo Hamilton

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To purchase Sad Bastard

Title: Sad Bastard
Author: Hugo Hamilton
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 193 pages
Availability: Sad Bastard - US
Sad Bastard - UK
Sad Bastard - Canada
Ein schlechter Verlierer - Deutschland
  • See also the previous Pat Coyne novel, Headbanger

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Our Assessment:

B+ : darkly comic, well told tale of modern Ireland

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 19/10/2001 Renate Schostack
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/11/2001 Sia Michel
The Sunday Times . 27/9/1998 Hugo Barnacle
The Times A 29/8/1998 Penny Perrick
TLS A 9/10/1998 C.L.Dallat

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der Roman ist flott und frech geschrieben, süffig zu lesen, wenn auch die Kurzatmigkeit der auf action und Pointen berechneten Abschnitte auf Dauer ermüdet. Und auf dem Weg übers Meer ist das irische Witzpulver wohl etwas feucht geworden." - Renate Schostack, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Hamilton's style is an engaging mix of the salty and literary, and he has fun with the cartoonish tropes of pulp fiction, but the predictable mystery comes a distant second to his vivid characters." - Sia Michel, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Though of no great subtlety, the novel makes strong play with character and local mood in a rock-solid thriller structure. A homage to the lunchtime sequence of Ulysses halfway through -- risky, risky -- stands the strain of Joycean comparisons pretty well. Hamilton knows his business." - Hugo Barnacle, The Sunday Times

  • "(I)t is really a condition-of-Ireland novel. (...) Sad, violent and very, very funny, this is a devastating critique of a changing nation." - Penny Perrick, The Times

  • "In Sad Bastard, a small masterpiece that is both hilarious and sadly moving, Hamilton explores the contradictions of an evolving society, frantic to indulge in the commodities, freedom and detritus of globalization -- but which is still at heart the world of Flann O'Brien's "pint of plain", Joyce's Bloom and Patrick Kavanagh's parish." - C. L. Dallat, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Headbanger and one-time Garda (Dublin cop) Pat Coyne was introduced in Hugo Hamilton's 1997 novel, Headbanger (see our review). At the close of that novel his neighbour, avid golfer Gillespie, mutters: "Sad bastard". And if Coyne wasn't the saddest of bastards at that point, things have certainly gone downhill since then.
       A few years have passed in the meantime. Injured in the line of duty, in a fire, Coyne is no longer actively working as a policeman. He is separated from his wife, his marriage just barely lingering on "at a distance": he lives with his son, Jimmy, in a flat, while Carmel looks after their two daughters in the old family home.
       Jimmy is following in his father's footsteps, at least with regards to becoming a headbanger. Coyne doesn't try to control or influence the kid, and Jimmy is beginning to get into some real trouble. Jimmy and a friend go a bit overboard at the harbour one drunken night -- harmless enough, except that a more serious crime also occurs in the vicinity. And Jimmy finds himself in a mess, wanted first by the police and then -- more threateningly -- by some real criminals.
       Coyne, of course, comes to the rescue -- but it isn't that easy. Coyne doesn't know the full story behind what Jimmy did and what Jimmy saw. Coyne doesn't know about the large stash of dollars, some of which finds its way into circulation, with dire consequences for the spenders. And Coyne has his own problems. He wants to get back together with his wife, but she'll have none of that (while having something else instead, frustrating Coyne even more). Coyne is also in therapy, an exercise that hasn't seemed to help him much. And most of all there's Ireland, which doesn't seem or feel that Irish or authentic any longer, tearing at Coyne's very essence almost every waking moment.
       Coyne is Irish through and through. Except for golf, which he can't stand. Headbanger was already about changing times and the changing nation, but Hamilton really focusses on that theme in Sad Bastard, often very well. Fluency in the almost lost mother tongue, for example, is a badge of honour (which Hamilton perhaps plays too much with here). It, like many of the local traditions, indeed, like almost everything Irish, seems lost in the modern world. Coyne looks for authenticity and finds essentially none. Others adapt, but, as Coyne's wife correctly tells him: "You're stuck in the past."
       The different plot- and crime-lines come together as Coyne stumbles across others peripherally involved in various aspects of the goings on. There's the poet who gets mysteriously beaten up. There is the Romanian refugee who eventually turns to him for help. The pieces fall into place -- but the world, Coyne's Irish world, can't be set completely right again. The Anchor Bar winds up becoming the Anchor Café: that is what the world is coming to.

       Hamilton presents the story well: Sad Bastard is a tighter, better developed tale than Headbanger. As in the previous novel, many of the small scenes are particularly good: Jimmy revelling in his work at an old-age home, the Romanian refugee working at a fast food outlet. Coyne's general bewilderment is also captured well. And there is a very good sequence as Hamilton describes each of the many characters lunching, page after page of very well done variations on the theme.
       An enjoyable and quite clever entertainment.

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Sad Bastard: Reviews: Other books by Hugo Hamilton under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Irish literature

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About the Author:

       Irish author Hugo Hamilton was born in 1953.

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