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Posts Tagged ‘Dublin’

Everyday Blasphemies

November 12, 2014 | by

Dubliners at one hundred.

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An illustration by Stephen Crowe for de Selby Press’s new edition of Dubliners.

It was a priest who first convinced me to read Dubliners. On the face of it, this might seem strange. Joyce had a lifelong hatred of clergymen, and claimed the sight of one made him physically ill; in “The Sisters,” the opening story of Dubliners, he chose a senescent priest as the first, and arguably most disturbing, of the many images of decay and paralysis that pervade the book. But in the Dublin of my teens, the priests were running the show; it was even possible for priests to be celebrities, and it was the most famous of these who took my class on retreat at the end of Transition Year, in June 1991.

Joyce writes about a religious retreat in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which an unnamed preacher terrifies the boys with a lengthy description of the torments of hell. Ours wasn’t like that. There were beanbags and unlimited biscuits; the celebrity cleric, who had become famous in the sixties as the Singing Priest and latterly hosted a hugely popular radio show, spoke to us like we were his friends. Even though the retreat consisted for the most part of the usual list of prohibitions—don’t do drugs, don’t have sex—his gravelly voice and inner-city accent gave him a convincing authenticity. Then, for reasons I still can’t quite understand—modernist literature was not at that point high on our list of temptations—he started talking about James Joyce. According to the Singing Priest, Joyce was one of the greatest hoaxes ever to be perpetrated on the Irish people. Far from being a genius, he was a charlatan, a phony, a false prophet. Furthermore, the priest continued, nobody in the world had actually read his famous novel Ulysses, and anyone who claimed otherwise was a liar.

Well, this came as a surprise. My father was a professor of Irish literature at Joyce’s alma mater, University College Dublin; in his study at home he had multiple copies of Joyce’s books, including Ulysses, as well as innumerable books about Joyce’s books. Had he been pulling the wool over our eyes for all these years? Read More »

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Where’s Leo?

June 17, 2013 | by

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Two years ago yesterday I followed a man dressed in black into a small pharmacy in Dublin. Bars of yellow soap covered the shop’s dark wooden shelves and countertops. I watched from across the shop as the man conversed loudly with the pharmacist, gesticulating as he spoke. He ordered a specific type of lotion. He then grabbed a bar of soap, indicating that he’d return later to pay for the soap and lotion. I lifted a bar to my nose and sniffed: lemon. The man waved goodbye to the pharmacist and left. I put down the soap and followed him out.

While I don’t usually stalk errand-running strangers in foreign cities, this was an exception: I was participating in Bloomsday, the annual reenactment of James Joyce’s Ulysses, on the anniversary of day the novel takes place, June 16, 1904. The man clad in black was an actor portraying protagonist Leopold Bloom as he moves through his day in real time, in the actual spots around Dublin where Joyce set his narrative. I was part of a spectator’s group of about thirty people—some dressed in period garb, including an unwitting infant in a lace collar and antique stroller—that trailed Bloom through the streets of Dublin throughout the day. We visited a home on Eccles Street that could have been Bloom’s. The pharmacy was Sweny’s, a Dublin establishment still selling the same lemon-scented soap that Joyce first made famous in 1922. Read More »

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An Arrow in Flight: The Pleasures of Mary Lavin

June 12, 2012 | by

Joyce Carol Oates called her one of the finest short-story writers of the twentieth century, and there’s much to love about the work of Mary Lavin, whose centenary falls this week; there’s the brilliance with which her fiction gets at the stuff of human interaction, in all its awkwardness, in all the ways in which, muddled and mortified, this interaction will have to do us, because it’s all we’ve got. There’s the immense power with which she depicts the inner lives of women, particularly mothers and widows, women who have no reason to be anything other than honest with themselves about the realities of their situation. Lavin evokes those situations with sympathy and with candor and with, in many cases, a frank and delicious comedy.

Lavin was an Irish writer of the mid-twentieth century, so it’s no surprise that Catholic Ireland is present in her work, but there’s nothing predictable about her portraits of the people who lived in its grip, because what her fiction always looks to are the marvels and the strangeness of individual lives, individual territories carved out regardless of the directives handed down from on high. These lives, mostly rural, could be described as small; they could be described as provincial. Mary Lavin would never stoop to either of those descriptions. They were lives rich and secretive and complicated and contradictory, and for her there was no form suited to them more perfectly than that of the short story, the form she described as being like “an arrow in flight, or a flash of forked lightning: you know the way a flash of lightning appears to be there all in the sky at once? Beginning, middle and end, all there at once.”

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Paul Murray on “That’s My Bike!”

December 21, 2011 | by

 

Paul Murray. Photograph by Cormac Scully.

Paul Murray, author of Skippy Dies and An Evening of Long Goodbyes, wrote “That’s My Bike!,” a short story published in the Winter issue of The Paris Review. The story opens with a group of friends gathered at a none-too-salubrious pub in Dublin’s Northside on Christmas Eve. Murray spoke to me from his office at the Oscar Wilde Center for writing at Trinity College in Dublin, where he is a writing fellow.

The last time I was in Dublin for Christmas was in 2007, right before the crash. The Christmas displays along Grafton Street and in all the shopping areas were absolutely ghastly. Everything had blinking lights and moving parts. Is this still the case?

There’s this shop called Brown Thomas, which is the oldest department store in Dublin and it’s very swanky and expensive. Historically, when it used to be called Switzer’s, they had these famous windows with Santa Claus and mice making ballet shoes and so forth, and it was all mechanized, and the kids would go into Dublin and look at the windows. That was something your parents would bring you to do. Then, when the boom came, they stopped having child-oriented windows and started having these really nasty Helmut Lang soft-cyber-porn-type windows with a bunch of emaciated blue mannequins wearing just a giant watch and staring bleakly out of the windows. Everything was about excess and consumption. The idea that children had any part of Christmas was shunted to one side because the store just wanted to get the adults in there to spend money.

And would the adults make pilgrimages to gaze at the watches?

They wouldn’t even stop at the windows, they would just pile into the store. I remember being in there and hearing a couple next to me saying, “I just don’t know what to get her.” And the woman said, “Pearls, you can’t really go wrong with pearls.” And I remember thinking, “Who are you people?” It was beyond parody. And these were people who worked in normal sorts of jobs. Read More »

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