If ever there was a book that demanded to be reviewed by Colm Tóibín, it's Mario Vargas Llosa's brand new novel about the gay, Irish rebel Roger Casement, The Dream of the Celt [Kindle], just out from FSG. At this point Tóibín can review a Nobel laureate more or less on equal footing and he has already written deeply about Casement in the LRB.
Until then, critical opinion has been virtually unanimous that the book is interesting, important, and well worth your while, but marred by flat or wooden writing that fails to bring the subject to life to the extent he did in The Feast of the Goat [Kindle].
NYTBR: "How did Casement’s closeted yet (so it would seem) hotly pursued homosexuality shape his identity? Vargas Llosa doesn’t speculate, reserving most of his thoughts on the question for his epilogue, as if to deliberately avoid what he calls the 'novelesque.' Instead, he restricts himself to underscoring the ever-present dangers of the abuse of power."
The Guardian: "Vast and intriguing novel... Parts struggle to contain a proliferation of expository detail and qualifying reference. There are a fair number of undramatised biographical passages, which make for bumpy reading, even if one takes a latitudinarian position about the role of information in novelistic prose."
Ángel Gurría-Quintana in the FT: "certainly gripping and, at times, Vargas Llosa tells it with panache. But he has a vast canvas to fill, and his exhaustive trudge through the well-documented parts of Casement’s life sometimes feels too dutiful, the prose too cliché-ridden... One of the most controversial elements of Casement’s story was the publication of the Black Diaries, in which he allegedly entered details of his various homosexual encounters. They were circulated anonymously while Casement awaited a reprieve from execution, and contributed to public opinion turning against him. Scholars still argue about their authenticity. Vargas Llosa has concluded that they were written by Casement but may have been a record of imagined dalliances. It is a shame that this crucial facet of Casement’s contradictory personality is so cursorily dealt with by the author, whose taste for the epic and the melodramatic too often gets in the way of any psychological complexity."