Nationality: Irish. Born: Hugo O'Urmoltaigh in Dublin, Ireland, 28 January 1953. Career: Worked in the music business; freelance journalist, Dublin. Lives in County Dublin, Ireland. Awards: Rooney prize for Irish Literature, 1992. Agent: Derek Johns, 20 John Street, London WC1N 2DR, England.
Surrogate City. London, Faber and Faber, 1990.
The Last Shot. London, Faber and Faber, 1991; New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1992.
The Love Test. London, Faber and Faber, 1995; Boston, Faber andFaber, 1995.
Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow. London, Faber and Faber, 1996.
Headbanger. London, Secker & Warburg, 1996.
Sad Bastard. London, Secker & Warburg, 1998.
Finbar's Hotel (serial novel, with others), devised and edited byDermot Bolger. London, Picador, 1997.* * *
Hugo Hamilton was born in 1953 of Irish-German parentage. He grew up with three languages—Irish, English, and German—and his fiction often works to suture these cultures into points of intersection. In particular, Hamilton is concerned both to make sense of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, as epitomized by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and to understand the "New Ireland" and the cultural meanings of its trading outsider status for inclusion in the global marketplace.
In his novel The Last Shot, Hamilton takes on the final days of the Nazi regime and interweaves their chaos with a parallel narrative of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the promise of German reunification. The first narrative thread, set in 1945, centers around Franz Kern, a radio technician for the Wehrmacht, and Bertha Sommer, a civil secretary, who had been stationed in Laun, Czechoslovakia, and are fleeing after the surrender to return to Germany. The second plot line is related in the first person by an unnamed American who finds himself inexplicably drawn to Germany. Foregoing matriculation at an American university, he opts to study in Dusseldorf, where he begins an affair with a young German woman, which continues after she marries another man and bears a child with Down's syndrome. In an act eerily reminiscent of Nazi eliminations, the narrator, his mistress, and her husband eventually collaborate, "in an act of mercy," to cut short the child's agony when he develops leukemia. Hamilton braids these two narratives together with an oedipal quest, as it becomes plain that the American narrator is in fact the son of Bertha Sommer and that his obsession is to locate the precise day, indeed hour, of the Wehrmacht's withdrawal from Czechoslovakia. Like so much contemporary German fiction, Hamilton's novel takes care to complexify each character, refusing to give anyone a free and clear conscience and to suggest that, as a moral figure, Germany signifies "something that everybody secretly wants and openly denies."
Hamilton also explores the years immediately following the fall of the Wall in The Love Test, but here he adds a specifically Irish contrast, as a cynical West German woman takes as her lover a hapless Irishman onto whom she projects the seductive scent of Otherness. By juxtaposing Continental affluence, jadedness, and spiritual emptiness with this Irish Otherness, Hamilton suggests that cultural identity is a play of signifiers that both glamorizes and subjugates the subaltern.
In his more recent novels, Hamilton ventures into detective fiction and, at the same time, undertakes close, if sarcastic, scrutiny of modern Ireland, whose biggest growth industry is crime. In Sad Bastard, the sequel to Hamilton's Headbanger, Dublin Garda (that is, policeman) Pat Coyne enters psychotherapy and therein encounters what he calls "cartoon psychology," familiar to critics of self-help culture as platitudes masquerading as wisdom. In the tradition of hard-boiled detectives, as crafted by writers like Raymond Chandler, Coyne is full of pithy one-liners, and the Coyne novels succeed most as black comedy.
—Michele S. Shauf
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