This is one of my paperbacks and I had never read it before. No notation as to when it was purchased, but I would imagine I've owned it for many, many years.
The title is from a poem by Wallace Stevens. It describes the wake or preparation for the funeral of a woman. Her feet are described as 'horny'. Knobs are missing from a bureau in the room. She was a seamstress? Celebration of life (ice cream) is contrasted with a scene of death. Burly men with cigars churning ice cream.
"Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream."
(In the context of death, an echo of Hamlet's comment to Claudius: “Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots.” Hamlet, act 4, scene 3)
The novel is set at the beginning of WWII. 1939 through April 7-8 1941, The Belfast Blitz
Gavin Burke is the protagonist. He has finished the Irish equivalent of high school, but has put off going to college. His parents want him to finish his education. He has joined the UK Red Cross (ARP- Air Raid Precautions/ FAP- First Aid Party).
His prudish Catholic girlfriend is Sally Shannon. She is a nurse's aid and although she likes Gavin, she dates other people.
Gavin's quasi-military function is to keep an eye out for an air attack and man the stretchers if there are wounded.
At the beginning of the war most people thought that Belfast wouldn't be bombed because it would require the planes to travel over 1,000 miles one way. However, when the Nazis took France, it became very accessible.
Many older Irishmen hated the British more than Hitler.
Gavin's father is a lawyer and he's sympathetic to Germany.
Owen and Kathy are Gavin's siblings. His brother is more accomplished and so is his sister.
Freddy is Gavin's best friend and also in the FAP. He sees himself as an actor. Some scenes involve this acting troupe. Freddy is a socialist. Some of the actors are gay and this is shocking to Gavin.
The best part of the novel is near the end when Belfast is bombed. Freddy and Gavin volunteer for corpse duty. The novel climaxes at The Belfast Blitz. This means that the novel spans 1939-1941, but it seems much shorter. Gavin's experience doesn't seem to be two years.
In the end, Gavin and his father reconcile in the bombed ruins of their Belfast house. The father had left for Dublin with the rest of the family, but he came back for Gavin. The 'father' becomes the 'son'- life is forever changed.
Belfast Blitz wikipedia-
Author's page at wikipedia-
Wallace Stevens page at wikipedia-
I enjoyed the book. It's mostly a quirky comedy involving the odd characters who are in the ARP and FAP. But, the final part of the book is tragic.