Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’
July 9, 2012 | by Belinda McKeon
Sit in a theater for a Tom Murphy play and I can guarantee you one thing: you will come out of that theater rattled, and throttled, and staggered, in the best of all possible ways. It might take a long moment, afterwards, to catch your breath; use that moment to listen to the torrent of marvelous language that will still be surging through your head. That tussle of starkness and poetry. Murphy doesn’t give us lyricism the way that Irish writers, apparently, are meant to do; he gives us blunt and beautiful rhythm. He doesn’t give us laughter in that way either, though audiences will inevitably seek it out, and connect, in the sting of that laughter falling wrongly, with the defiantly dark intelligence of Murphy’s vision: guffaw at all the drinking scenes, if you will, but these are broken lives, and there’s no joking that away.
Tom Murphy is Ireland’s greatest living dramatist. We say things like that in Ireland—Ireland’s greatest this, Ireland’s greatest that—as though it means anything in the greater scheme of things. Who cares what Ireland thinks is great? Tom Murphy doesn’t. But it’s true of him, that accolade, I promise you. Read More »
June 12, 2012 | by Belinda McKeon
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.”
October 25, 2011 | by Miranda Popkey
The writer Anne Enright, a native of Ireland, is perhaps best known for her 2007 Booker Prize winning novel The Gathering, a darkly beautiful novel about a family gathering in the wake of a suicide. In The Forgotten Waltz, her fifth novel and her first since winning the Booker, she takes up a seemingly more mundane plot: that of adulterous love. Gina, married to Conor, narrates her affair with Séan—himself married and father to a troubled daughter, Evie—which comes to a head as Ireland’s economy collapses.
It’s an affair whose outcome is known from almost the very first pages, and Enright is not interested in judging Gina or Séan—Gina believes, ultimately, that there is nothing to forgive and, if Enright does not agree with her outright, she makes Gina a sympathetic enough character that it is possible for the reader to do so. The considerable narrative pleasures of this novel lie in Enright’s luminous language, as she sketches Gina’s attempts to figure out what happened and how and why. The author, who has a quick wit and a hearty laugh, as well as a refreshingly no-nonsense attitude, spoke to me recently from the West Coast, where she was on book tour. Read More »
November 19, 2010 | by Thessaly La Force
If you can get your hands on Lord of Misrule, the novel by Wednesday’s National Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon, let me know (Amazon doesn’t count). In the meantime, check out this interview with her in Gargoyle Magazine that took place sometime in 1983. —Thessaly La Force
Amid all of the bleak Ireland-is-down-the-toilet-again talk emanating from across the Atlantic (often via those miserly analysts at Standard & Poor’s), I was tickled and cheered by a short piece in The Irish Times in which readers tweeted their favorite things about the country. I found myself laughing and nodding in agreement as I scanned the list of oddities that all Irish people seem to indulge in or enjoy. —Brenda Collins
I finally cracked What Is All This?, Stephen Dixon’s mammoth collection of previously unpublished stories—and it’s terrific stuff. The book itself is also quite pleasing. Dixon still composes his stories on a typewriter (a Hermes Standard, the same brand Douglas Adams used), and Fantagraphics’ whiz art director, Jacob Covey, has mimicked the unevenness and smudges of typewritten text on the cover and section pages. It’s great design porn. —Nicole Rudick
How can you deny your love for Joan Didion, especially when she’s writing about Woody Allen? A vintage piece from The New York Review of Books. —T. L.
Larry Levis isn’t exactly a household name—then again, so few poets are—but he should be. Start with his collection The Widening Spell of the Leaves, specifically the poem, “The Spell of the Leaves,” which begins, “Her husband left her suddenly. Then it was autumn." Some lines later, this brutal description of the abandoned wife waiting in the car, out of habit, for her husband to drive her to work: “Later she couldn’t / Say whether an hour or only a few minutes / Had passed before she realized she didn’t / Have a husband.” It’s heartbreaking (and also, strangely, an excellent tool of seduction). —Miranda Popkey
Once upon a time, Kate Bernheimer asked forty contemporary authors to pen stories that riffed on the fairytale tradition. What took shape was the dizzying My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, a collection by turns wicked, lyrical, and very, very funny. Where else can you find Jim Shepard in dialogue with Italo Calvino, or Aimee Bender working from Charles Perrault? All the readers in the kingdom lived happily ever after. —Kate Waldman
What’s it like to have sex with someone with Asperger’s? —David Wallace-Wells
October 21, 2010 | by Miranda Popkey
Paul Murray’s second novel, Skippy Dies—recently longlisted for the Booker Prize—is more than six hundred pages long and tackles subjects ranging from string theory to World War I. Set at an Irish boarding school, the darkly comic tale (Skippy actually does die in the first chapter) is populated by a sharply drawn cast of confused, self-destructive teens and self-involved, irresponsible adults. Recently, Murray spoke to me from his home in Dublin.
Did you draw any of the characters and themes from your own experiences? Were you bullied at school?
I went to quite an illustrious school in Ireland called Blackrock College, and Seabrook College, the school in the book, physically resembles the school that I went to. But other than that, it wasn’t hugely autobiographical. I wasn’t bullied or anything; I wasn’t brutalized in any way. There were much nerdier kids in my school, and they would draw more of the fire, but I could see it going on around me. It wasn’t an evil place. But there was such a limited view of the world. It was a big rugby school, and I was incredibly bad at rugby. They would make you play it until you were about fifteen, no matter how incredibly pointless that was. So if you weren’t any good at rugby, then you sort of didn’t really have any kind of standing in the school.
I think being a teenager is really, really hard. You’re caught in this double bind: You’re struggling to establish your own identity, and at the same time you have absolutely zero of the tools that you need. You’re completely dependent on your parents, you have no money, and your day is mapped out for you from beginning to end. My school was a boys’ school; there were no girls, so life really felt kind of pointless in that regard. You’ve got these huge sexual transformations happening, but if there are no girls, obviously all the energy is just going to be turned into brutalizing whoever is smaller than you.
There was also a real emphasis on grades. The school would push students to perform well on exams and get a lot of points and get into good universities and so forth. The education system in Ireland is a real sausage factory. You go into class and you learn as many facts as you can and you regurgitate them in your exams, and there’s not a huge amount of respect for learning or a huge amount of respect for education. And because a lot of the kids were quite wealthy, some of them looked down on teachers. And the combination of a might-makes-right brutality and also getting a glimpse of the economic hierarchy that held sway in the country—all those things were really disappointing lessons to learn as a kid. It felt like my life began as soon as I left school.