At last. World's most apt critic for the material, Colm Tóibín reviews Mario Vargas Llosa's novel The Dream of the Celt [Kindle] about queer Irish rebel Roger Casement and he brings a slicing clarity to the gay question:
But disappointed readers hunting for magnificence, take heart: Tóibín praises Vargas Llosa's 1981 novel, saying "In The War of the End of the World [Kindle], in Helen Lane’s translation (which the author, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, asserts ‘may be better than the original’), there is a sweeping confidence in the rhythms, a brilliance in the choice of detail and the analysis of motives; a wonderful complexity is given to character and event. Something emerges from the book that not only soars above the sources Vargas Llosa used, but also above his own careful structuring and narration, and it has a rare tragic force that is grave and deeply affecting."
"Vargas Llosa’s views on what are known as the Black Diaries do more damage to the novel, however, than his heavy-handed treatment of Casement’s Irish dreams and his German sojourn does.
"In his careful appendix to the diaries Séamus O Síocháin writes:
If one accepts the existing evidence from outside the diaries for Casement’s homosexuality … if one accepts that the type of homosexual lifestyle depicted in the diaries conforms to what today is a recognisable variant; and if one accepts that Casement directed his moral wrath not at sexual behaviour but at individuals or institutions he considered to be oppressive of individuals or communities, then we begin to see many of the references to Casement’s ‘dividedness’ in a new light. Claims that the author of the diaries is ‘subhuman’, ‘moronic’, ‘schizoid’, can then be seen for what they are: reflections of the moral positions of those making the judgments rather than of Casement’s morality.
"Vargas Llosa strongly believes that Casement was ‘divided’, his body ‘sometimes at odds with values he espoused’. He is, of course, entitled to take whatever moral position on Casement’s sexual activities he wishes to take; if he wants to read the entries in the Black Diaries as ‘noxious obscenities’ then he is free to do so. But the idea that Casement wrote the entries ‘but did not live them, at least not integrally, that there is in them a good deal of exaggeration and fiction, that he wrote certain things because he would have liked to live them but couldn’t’ does not stand up to much scrutiny. More important, it means that Vargas Llosa as a novelist is writing about a reduced fictional figure. In his version of the story the Casement travelling in the Congo and the Putumayo is a great humanitarian, a man filled with zeal, with deep and horrified concern, a more passionate and effective Kofi Annan. In most of the narrative, Casement is not only simplified, which any novelist has a right to do with a figure from history, but he is simple, not of much interest – which is a different matter.
"Were the diary entries written about things that didn’t happen, but belonged instead in the realm of the wishful, then they would surely have a much greater erotic charge than the scribbled notes that Casement wrote. Most of the entries merely record the transaction, sometimes with a reference to the size of the companion’s penis, the amount of money paid and the location where the sex took place. Sometimes there is another cryptic comment; occasionally an entry is entirely cryptic. Vargas Llosa’s question in his epilogue about the possibility of these notes having been ‘falsified’ is hardly worth asking. O Síocháin, having considered all the evidence, concludes that ‘the various pieces of evidence, positive and negative, suggest that the Black Diaries are the work of Roger Casement’ and could not have been forged."