EilĂ­s Dillon

Eilís Dillon
The Head of the Family
London, Faber, 1960. Dublin, Ward River Press, 1982. Poolbeg Press, 1987.

This multi-layered novel introduces us to the eccentric, not to say dysfunctional, Dublin household of the Mallons. The head of the family is Roger Mallon, grand old man of Irish literature (and inventor of Meticulism), who has not published a line for over forty years. Also living in his large Victorian house are his subservient children and grandchildren. Tensions and jealousies come to a head when Roger Mallon makes a new young friend, and an American scholar gains access to the old man's secret diaries.

..The Head of the Family, Faber edition..The Head of the Family, Ward River edition..The Head of the Family, Poolbeg edition

Reviews of The Head of the Family ...

"Full, rich, comic, tragic, subtle and mature." (The Age, Melbourne)
"Miss Dillon sets her scene admirably ... an amusing and intelligently written novel." (Times Literary Supplement)
"A book that should add considerably to Eilís Dillon's growing reputation as a novelist." (The Irish Press)
"The picture is entirely convincing ... there is no attempt to describe Dublin but one is completely transported there." (Edith Shackleton, The Lady)
"Miss Dillon should be acclaimed as an artist of a very high order." (Vernon Fane, Sphere)
"This bitter-sweet tale about a patriarchal Irish novelist has an unquestionable power behind its delicacy of construction ... derives great strength from Eilís Dillon's perception and sympathy." (The Irish Times)
"It is a marvellous study in psychology and should be required reading for every lecturer in English Lit. If your humour tends to be ironic, you will enjoy it." (Liberty)

Another review after this extract from the opening chapter....

Every evening for six months now, Mark Roche had left the house immediately after dinner to go to the Mallons. He did it furtively, surreptitiously, like an old lady who keeps a secret bottle behind the leather-bound volumes of Dickens in her parlour bookshelves.
He left his mother sitting resentfully at the table and went to put on his hat and coat, watching himself in the huge hall glass as carefully as if he were going to the opera. His father trotted past on his way to the study, brushing cigar-smoke off his black velvet jacket.
"Yes, yes," he said absently. "Do go and enjoy yourself.
Don't worry about us. We'll entertain ourselves."
The study door closed on his dry sheep-like chuckle. There he would spend the rest of the evening, savouring the sins of medieval princes, rolling their names on his tongue like old wine to bring out their full flavour, wagging his head from time to time and sighing for that glorious era of scarlet and gold.
Mark opened the front door and stepped silently out into Fitzwilliam Street. He took the first few yards quickly, for once or twice his mother had followed him to the door and called him back on some pretext which was soon disposed of, but which nevertheless had delayed him for a few agonizing minutes. Now his conscience twitched uneasily, but at twenty the conscience is still delightfully pliable and elastic and it did not trouble him for long.
Mark was fond of his mother, in an impatient way which he could not have explained. Her wedgwood blue and grey drawingroom bored him, like a theatre scene that is too long left unchanged.

Anne Duchene's review in The Guardian

"The Head of the Family emerges as an excellent, bitter comedy -- a little horror-comic about human nature. An old writer, an aged lion [...] opens his old diaries to a visiting American scholar, and lets loose the demons of his past misdeeds. Some of the family Miss Dillon leaves pathetically peripheral, though vivid -- little squashed victims of poverty and pride. Others develop alarmingly [...] All the charmers are capable of cruelty, all the horrors demand pity, everything that seems comic is on consideration sad, and everything that initially shocks also encourages appalled or unalloyed laughter. By the end, just about every shade of selfishness, from innocent vanity and pomposity to deep, greedy egotism, has been faithfully, impassively riddled. This is a very cunning, dreadful little tract, and tremendously enjoyable."

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