'The Sailor in the Wardrobe' is Hugo Hamilton's second memoir, and is focussed on his transition from his restricted boyhood in Dublin to independent adulthood. The sailor referred to in the title is Hugo's paternal grandfather, John Hamilton, who died while serving in the Royal Navy. A photograph of John Hamilton in his uniform is kept in the back of his father's wardrobe: in his father's eyes any form of service for the British is viewed with anger and shame.
`..children forget the real damage that was done and start repairing things with their imagination.'
As Hugo makes the transition from childhood to adulthood, he continues to describe (as he did in `The Speckled People') and increasingly to question the experience of belonging and of not belonging. He works at the harbour at a local fishery where his boss Dan Hurley is engaged in a religious war with another fisherman. Hugo's best friend, Packer, ignores him for a time without any explanation, and Hugo continually challenges his father's rules.
`No matter how much I try to be the opposite, I will still end up like my father. It's how evolution works, with every son slipping into his father's shoes, no matter how different your clothes are or how long your hair is or how different the music is you're listening to.'
The conflicts between father and son are very much a part of Hugo's journey to adulthood. In one scene, after telling his father that he desires ignorance rather than knowledge, Hugo has a bowl of stewed apple thrown at him. And towards the end, I really liked reading about Jack Hamilton's abandoning his own rules while discovering how to link an initially incompatible mechanism between two power stations: one made in Germany and the other in England. Jack Hamilton started speaking English, with a Cork accent.
When one of his German cousins, Stefan, arrives in Ireland and then goes missing in Connemara, the entire family is puzzled. It seems that Hugo is not the only member of his generation seeking to redefine his identity.
Hugo Hamilton's recounting of these memories and events is interesting and insightful and while `The Sailor in the Wardrobe' echoes `The Speckled People', Hugo is becoming self-aware enough to seek his own, different place in the world. There's a hope that he can move beyond the past, the weight of history, into a future where history is an aspect rather than an anchor.
I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as `The Speckled People'. Partly it's because I kept forgetting to differentiate between Hugo's impressions as a child from his gradual shift from adolescence to adulthood. I'd like to read a third instalment, but not just yet.