Bernard MacLaverty brings us “The Trojan Sofa”, a short story that incorporates a corrosive relationship between a boy and his father, Niall and Da. The title itself suggests that deceit and deception is a feature of the story, as it turns out, this is two-fold. MacLaverty has innovatively chosen to use the first-person narrative mode to enable the reader to become much more familiar with Niall and warm to him as a character. With Niall being the narrator, he speaks sincerely of Da but the reader is forced to read between the lines to ascertain just how sincere Da is towards Niall.We are introduced to Da’s deceitful ways from the outset, tricking customers in a chit-chat style way to get “clued in” on how secure their homes are whilst conjuring a plan to rob them. This enlightens us to his character, and ultimately defines our views of his immoral ways. Not content with misleading his customers, his son, Niall is also misled, but to a much greater extent.
Being 11 years old, we assume that Niall is aware that burgling is morally wrong, after all, he “got the eleven-plus – no problem” but Da has convinced him that their actions are for the greater good. The British people they are stealing from have wronged their country and the” war” they have caused allows for them to “do anything in retaliation”. Da is able to justify his actions by playing the patriotic card “one up for old Ireland” suggesting to Niall that in addition to their personal gain, more importantly, Ireland has also gained.
It is clear that Niall has adopted Da’s views on all things Irish, convincing him to “do it for the first time” was not without manipulation “it is for Ireland” was the convincing phrase Da used on Niall. Because Niall has embraced his father’s beliefs fully, he is able to rationalise the burglaries, even minimise their criminal implication because all he has to do is follow the usual “modus operandi”.
Niall, shows his immaturity and seems to trust Da “the expert” implicitly.
“I’m not scared” he says, even though he is about to be abandoned overnight in a sofa where he is expected to initiate a burglary. “Da would’ve asked” about dogs and alarms so in Niall’s eyes, Da is looking out for him and making sure he is safe. He doesn’t see the bigger picture; he doesn’t think Da would put him in danger. As Da tell Niall about how the authorities “like to keep us in the dark”, the irony of this is not lost on the reader, for Niall himself is in the dark twofold; he has been duped into spending a whole night in total darkness in a sofa with the intention of burglarising the “major’s” house for the patriotic reasons Da has convinced him of but more upsettingly, we can see that Niall is being used as a pawn by Da to further his criminal shenanigans, without Niall, Da could not pull off his devious schemes.We are further convinced that Niall is being deceived by Da when it turns out that the British army “major” is in fact an architect. Niall sees the framed diploma, but has been brainwashed so much that he doesn’t consider that the architecture diploma signifies that the “major” may not be a “major” at all.
Whether Da loves Niall or not is never in question, but Da is risking his long-term bond with him, as Niall becomes savvy to the real nature of the business he is involved in it could go one of two ways; Da had better hope he has groomed Niall well enough to take the same outlook as himself. Although it is never mentioned, the theme of deceit and betrayal between the two characters run through this story from beginning to end. MacLaverty has written this in such a way that the reader is forced to read between the lines to get to the truth, it then becomes fairly easy for the reader to understand the corrosive relationship between Da and Niall that is perhaps the main storyline MacLaverty had in mind from the outset.