Sunday, August 31, 2014
The Goats are Singing
Banished Misfortune (4) - Dermot Healy
Further thoughts on Dermot Healy's debut collection of short stories.
Mr Blake is a "well known" newspaper columnist who is also a dramatist. He has moved into the country with his wife and son but they have since left and he is isolated and somewhat bitter. It is near the place where he was born but he has been living in Dublin for a long time. In many ways he prefigures the narrator of A Goat's Song, who is similarly a rural dramatist separated from his ex-partner and living in isolation.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
The Goats are Singing
Banished Misfortune (3) - Dermot Healy
The third story in Banished Misfortune is The Island and the Calves, a story that I found it harder to find my feet in than the first two.
It takes place in England during Easter Week to the soundtrack of Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ and is suffused with religious imagery. The world seems not yet to have solidified, and there is a sense that what is important are the things that can't be pinned down - "History became the studying of disappearing softness, for hardness always remained, the most accessible material of man."
Monday, August 11, 2014
The Ice Age - Margaret Drabble
"there was no rational explanation for the sense of alarm, panic and despondency which seemed to flow loose in the atmosphere of England.`'
It's a while since I read The Ice Age but with one thing and another I haven't been able to get around to writing anything about it. Not that there isn't a lot to say. It is a very interesting novel and I enjoyed it a lot and will be reading more Drabble. I read this partly to take the temperature of the mid-seventies which the book does very well, integrating big social and economic issues with the character's stories.
The book opens with a scene which reminded me strongly of The Sopranos: "On a Wednesday in the second half of November, a pheasant, flying over Anthony Keating's pond, died of a heart attack, as birds sometimes do.."
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Banished Misfortune (2) - Dermot Healy
Thoughts on the second story in Banished Misfortune, Dermot Healy's book of short stories published in 1982 and featuring stories from the preceding decade.
A Family and a Future
This is an odd story which is redolent of the sexual repression and abuse which overshadows Ireland's recent past. Set in the sixties, its main character is a woman called June who blithely satisfies her sexual desires with many men, and boys. The narrator is somewhat involved in the action early on, having an early (and somewhat traumatic) sexual experience with June, who is three years older.
Monday, August 4, 2014
Banished Misfortune (1) - Dermot Healy
My intention to read all of Dermot Healy's fiction this month and write about it is ambitious considering the current speed of my reading and the rate at which I post. However I will complete the project, even if I have to stretch the idea of August. You can read my introductory post on this project here, which aims to act as my own reader's memorial to the Irish master who died in June.
I have started with reading Healy's first published book of fiction, the short story collection Banished Misfortune and I am finding it a rewarding if somewhat resistant collection. The stories demand an immersion without, in many cases, a simple revelation of plot or character.
Some stories are like incantations, passages of startling clarity resolving into an impressionist blur of time, place and character. Others are far more straightforward.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
"Then I realized no one wants to hear heroic stories, but everyone likes to be told about someone else's misery."
I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of this Impac Dublin Literary Award winning novel on Twitter, just in time for #spanishlitmonth. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago but it has, like some other posts languished in my drafts folder since then. However, in a final effort to post on some Spanish Lit for #spanishlitmonth, I am returning to it, grinding through the gears of my memory.
The book opens with the shooting of one of the hippopotami that took to the Columbian countryside fro the huge outdoor zoo presided over by Pablo Escobar before his death in 1993. This reminds the narrator, Antonio Yammara, of his own memories that are tied up with the zoo and the Columbia represented by it, a Columbia where the drug cartel seemed untouchable, able to bribe, intimidate or kill anyone who stood against it.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
To the Bone - Jones
Regular readers will be aware of Mr Trevor Jones, who often stops by to comment and who, both as a solo artist and as part of Miracle Mile, has been producing excellent work since the eighties. Despite many critical plaudits and a small band of fanatics, this music has still to find its way to a wider audience. You can find my review of Miracle Mile's last album, In Cassidy's Care here.
His songs are carefully considered, mature reflections on the passing of time; friendship and its passing; disappointment; relationships; becoming and/or retreating from the self etc. The stuff of the considered life. My plan here (if you can call it a plan) is to listen to the album and respond track by track, somewhat fancifully imagining the album as a narrative and concentrating more on the lyrics than the music.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Sniffin' Glue - The Essential Punk Accessory - Mark Perry, Danny Baker et al
"Now I wanna sniff some glue"
It feels ironic to be reading something as essentially ephemeral as Sniffin' Glue almost forty years after its xeroxed DIY appearance as the throwaway taste setter of the punk vanguard. However, it does provide a vibrant glimpse of the time, with humour and openness and enthusiasm making up for the occasional crudity of the opinions expressed. That's crude as in roughly sketched rather than crude as in rude, by the way. I don't mind a bit of fuckin' rudity.
In the introduction Mark Perry talks about looking for a magazine about punk at the Rock On record stall at the Soho market and being told he should do it himself. When he did a movement was born, even if the appearance of Blue Oyster Cult on the cover of Issue 1 isn't quite punk kosher.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
I have read and reviewed almost no non-fiction over the lifetime of this blog. However, I continue to buy non-fiction in my all too frequent forays into charity shops, and even the odd one online, like this. I bought it at a time when I was researching a possible documentary project (long since dropped) and I finally got around to reading it as a result of taking up a challenge to present a paper at a conference on The Clash held in Belfast last month.
I really enjoyed it and hope that it kickstarts more non-fiction reading over the next few years. This book, subtitled "What Really Happened to Britain in the Seventies" filled in a lot of detail missing in the faint impression of current affairs in Britain at the outer fringes of my memory - I turned three in 1970 and grew up in Ireland, exposed to British news and television channels but not quite immersed in it.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
|photo courtesy of Steve Pyke: http://www.pyke-eye.com|
The Goats are Singing - for Dermot Healy.
The news filtered in yesterday on Facebook and Twitter of the tragically early death of one of Ireland's greatest writers, the inspirational Dermot Healy. Séamus Heaney called him the heir to Patrick Kavanagh. Roddy Doyle called him Ireland's greatest living writer. My thoughts are with his family and friends, whose loss is immeasurably greater than the loss to readers, but the loss to readers is great too, as he was a master.
As a reader I have been savouring the fact that his most recent novel, Long Time, No See is on my shelves, waiting for me. I had also been thinking of re-reading his classic novel A Goat's Song, the title of which comes from the etymology of tragedy (from the Greek - tragos ‘goat’ + ōidē ‘song). And if his early death is a tragedy, he has left great work to remember him by. I have read two of his novels, A Goat's Song and Sudden Times, and his absolutely masterful memoir The Bend for Home. He also wrote short stories; the screenplay for Cathal Black's hard hitting docudrama, Our Boys; four collections of poetry and a number of plays.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Bring Up The Bodies
"We still have, every Englishman and woman, some drops of giant blood in our veins. In those ancient times, in a land undespoiled by sheep or plough, they hunted the wild boar and the elk. The forest stretched ahead for days. Sometimes antique weapons are unearthed: axes that, wielded with double fist, could cut down horse and rider. Think of the great limbs of those dead men, stirring under the soil. War was their nature, and war is always keen to come again. It's not just the past you think of, as you ride these fields. It's what's latent in the soil, what's breeding; it's the days to come, the wars unsought, the injuries and deaths that, like seeds, the soil of England is keeping warm."
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Four Stories and Me
(This essay retraces some of the ground covered in this post. It was written for the competition held by Thresholds and as they didn't appreciate it I thought I'd inflict it on you. Thresholds have lots of interesting essays on the short story if you feel like reading more.)
Sometimes it seems that a short story can embed itself deep inside the memory, into crannies that novels can’t fit into. Some stories are forever curling and uncurling deep inside my own head. Why have these particular stories burned so deeply into my mind? It seems to me that many of those that have managed to establish themselves in my mind depict an absurd world where actions are dictated by chance and prejudice and the frailty and insignificance of human life are foregrounded.
Saturday, June 7, 2014
I The Supreme / Yo el Supremo - Augustus Roa Bastos
(translated by Helen Lane for Vintage Books. Published in 1987)
"It's awkward being alive and dead at the same time."
"imagination, mistress of error and falsehood?"
I read this in parallel with Richard at Caravano de Recuerdos. He has already posted three commentaries on Yo el Supremo, bringing to bear his greater familiarity with and understanding of South American literature and history. What do I have to offer? How do eccentric conclusions based on inaccurate speculation sound? Welcome to the home of vapour trails and reflections, or smoke and mirrors if you like that better.
This is a sprawling book with one of the craziest narrators in literary history. Fusing paranoia, puns and power El Supremo fires fusillades of vitriol mixed with artillery barrages of self-justification at his bewildered reader, forcing words to fit the flow of his conversation and dispensing with such things as temporal and character stability. By the end we feel we may be hearing the story from a consciousness born of it's own volition in a skull, long stored in a noodle box, that may or may not be the skull of El Supremo. But boy, can he rant! This is from the second page: "..all they know how to do is squeal. They haven't shut up to this day. They keep finding new ways of secreting their accursed poison. They get out pamphlets, pasquinades, lampoons, caricatures. I am an indispensable figure for slander. For all I care they can manufacture their paper from consecrated rags. Write it, print it with consecrated letters on a consecrated press. Go print your drivel on Mount Sinai if that will unshrivel your souls, you cacogenic latrinographers!"
Saturday, May 31, 2014
My Bookshelves on Another Person's Blog
Over at Savidge Reads there is a regular series called Other People's Bookshelves. I am "Other Person Number 43" if you feel inclined to have a peek at my shelves.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
I read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies together and it adds up to a long novel but it never felt like an effort. When I was a teenager I loved historical fiction and read quite a bit, most of which has been wiped clear from my brain, as has most of my knowledge of English history. Most of what was taught in Ireland back in my day focussed on the injustices perpetuated by the English on Ireland any way. Therefore we got more Oliver than Thomas Cromwell.
I mean I knew that heads would roll and monks faced eviction but not a whole lot else. Some other bits sounded familiar as I progressed but not awfully so. So I wasn't too worried about the absolute historical accuracy of this portrait of Thomas Cromwell, but instead focussed on how convincing a fictional character he was and the quality of the writing. I was not disappointed with either.
Friday, May 16, 2014
Young Skins - Colin Barrett
With the release of Young Skins Colin Barrett seems to have attracted the 'new Kevin Barry' tag. It's never easy having to wear someone else clothes and Kevin Barry probably thinks it's a bit early for a new him as well. Barrett has gracefully acknowledged Barry's influence and Barry has anthologised Barrett so the town seems big enough for both of them.
I find it difficult at times to write about short stories. I tend to read collections over a long period and indeed, I have many that I have dipped into on numerous occasions without finishing and often return to favourite stories again and again. Plans to cover my short story reading have yet to come to fruition. One of the problems is that it can be very easy to give away too much about a story, it's not like a novel where you can tell a lot without really giving anything away.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
"a real writer, with the true comic spirit" - James Joyce
Here is a treat, a documentary on the wonderful Irish writer Flann O'Brien a.k.a. Brian O'Nolan, writer of two of the greatest Irish novels: At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. He also produced one of the greatest satirical newspaper columns ever - An Cruiskeen Lawn.
In some ways he is the Irish Orson Welles, starting off with such great masterpieces that everything else is seen by some as a disappointment. And there is no doubt that he descended from those heights and suffered from frustration and alcoholism.
Thanks to Mick Mahon, who edited this documentary, for sharing.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
A Scots Quair - Lewis Grassic Gibbon
(Sunset Song; Cloud Howe; Grey Granite)
This trilogy reminded me strongly of Thomas Hardy with it's powerful sense of the lives of the rural poor and the vagaries of fate. The books were written in the early 1930's in a poetic Scottish dialect and the action covers the years before, during and after the First World War. I became aware of them through the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. Although popular in Scotland they had not previously attracted my attention. I'm glad they did. Indeed they are likely to meet with a surge in popularity as the great Terence Davies has just begun filming Sunset Song. The mix of tenderness and brutality he brought to the screen in Distant Voices, Still Lives would appear to be on the cards for a reprise.
Friday, April 25, 2014
Where do we to to to find authenticity in our lives? Artistic expression; meaningful work; love and marriage; family; children ... And what do we do if what we find there seems little more than cheap artifice or a momentarily shared delusion?
The opening of the novel largely concerns the unsuccessful staging of an amateur production of The Petrified Forest*. The play actually pre-empts much of the storyline of the novel, with dreams of escaping to France and artistic creation clashing against drear mundanity.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen
This has been on my TBR list for a long time. I was finally encouraged to pull it from my shelves by a list by author Yiyun Li of five books that she rereads. It seems to me to be a masterpiece, an essential book. I have read The Last September and thought it great but this is even better. At times the writing is exhilarating in its cumulative virtuosity, even when the insights are speculative and eccentric. Or maybe because they are eccentric and speculative.
The book tells of a period of time in the life of the orphaned Portia Quayne, a sixteen year old girl who is staying with her half-brother Thomas and his wife Anna, who have no children of their own and little time or sympathy for Portia. Portia was born when Thomas and Portia's father had an affair which brought an end to his marriage, after which he and Portia's mother lived in a succession of second rate accommodations around Europe. Thomas remembers her as a young girl who "stared at him like a kitten that expects to be drowned." It was their father's deathbed request that Thomas take Portia for a year. They feel that it would be bad form not to accede to a dying man's wish.