Posts Tagged ‘ literature ’

Gabriel García Márquez and William Shakespeare: A Celebration


In a week that has seen the passing of Colombia’s greatest writer we also see the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth (or three hundred and ninety eight year of his death if you trust the sources). Both men used their creative skills to explore human nature, and while the passing of a Nobel Laureate will be mourned as much as Shakespeare’s birthday will be celebrated this month, it is an opportunity to be grateful that we had such luminaries at all.

In his most critically celebrated work One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez managed to convey the pressure and strain of a whole continent recovering from colonial rule. In the same way that Shakespeare’s Henry V managed to embed a sub text of humanity and compassion into a story about bloody conquest, García Márquez was able to hide the whole world in his dusty village that the Buendia’s called home. There is a literary device known as metonymy, where a thing or group is identified by something associated with it. A common example is ‘crown’ to refer to the monarchy but a more fitting one here maybe the way ‘the stage’ can often refer to the whole of theatre and beyond. Metonymy is not unique to literature, we most often use it in our everyday speech, but it is in the hands of artists like Márquez and Shakespeare that it becomes most potent. Both writers could afford to generalise in the same way an artist like Jack B. Yeats could afford broad knife and brush strokes. They built worlds out of concrete themes like jealousy, love and loneliness and then deftly explored them and in doing that exposed a little of the great mystery of the human soul. Continue reading

New Organisation Aims To Showcase Irish Talent

It’s been said that Ireland has produced some of the most beautiful and profound works of literature in the world, and with writers such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Bowen and Joseph O’Connor part of our literary past, it’s hard to disagree. ‘Under Thirty’, a new non – profit organisation, hopes to add to that reputation by inspiring a new generation of writers.

Specifically aimed at Irish writers between the ages of 16 – 30, the organisation which was set up in September by Dr. Stephen Doherty, aims to showcase Irish fiction at home and abroad. ‘Under Thirty’ is made up of a group of expert panellists and provides a platform for young writers to have their work published and critiqued by experienced peers.  The most promising submissions are published in the group’s bi – annual journal which will be distributed as an e –book and a printed book throughout Ireland, the United States and Australia.

‘It’s quite experimental and it’s not something that has really been done before within the creative writing world’, explains Dr. Doherty, who is an author and a lecturer at Dublin City University.

‘It came from talking to young writers who were struggling to have their work read, and I thought it would be an interesting idea to set up a organisation where people can submit their work, get constructive advice and have a chance to be published.’

At the moment the organisation has fifty panellists from a mixture of professional backgrounds; they include Irish Times journalist – Tim O’Brien, author – Yvonne Cassidy, literary scholar – Professor Margaret Kelleher and historian/ author – Turtle Bunbury.  All the organisers and panellists work voluntarily to ‘review submissions, provide feedback and encouragement to the country’s aspiring writers.’

Valerie Sirr, winner of the Hennessy New Irish Writer award in 2007 and writer for the Irish Times, outlined her view on the initiative – ‘I think it’s a great idea to reach young writers. I wish it had existed when I started out.  I hope my own input will be of benefit to young writers because it’s a great feeling to see new writers develop and in my experience they often come on in leaps and bounds with the right guidance’.

The most outstanding contributor will be awarded with a prize of either, a creative writing scholarship or a writing retreat which will be funded by eBook and book sales. Plans are in place to have the journal put together in December with the finished product ready for sale in the run up to Christmas.

‘The group is a non profit organisation with the idea essentially based around people being generous with their time. There has been a great reaction so far and I’d encourage anyone who is interested to submit their work before the November deadline’, says Dr. Doherty.

Currently ‘Under Thirty’ is only open to Irish writers based at home and abroad but organisers are optimistic that if interest continues it will expand to the ‘UK and USA, and include younger writer’s as well’.

The deadline for this year’s submissions is midnight the 7th of November. Further details are available on the website or join the conversation on Twitter  and Facebook –

By Luke Holohan

The Irish Short Story

As the 2012 Cork Short Story Festival finished up yesterday, following another successful year, I wanted to look at three Irish short stories, classic and contemporary. Short stories have long been a part of the Irish literature tradition, even more so than the novel. Each of the short stories below represent different times in Irish literary history; the gothic novella, Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’; the desolation of 1960s rural Ireland in Trevor’s ‘The Ballroom of Romance’; and finally the story of Modern Ireland in Enright’s ‘The Portable Virgin’; a place of bleached haired women, posh hairdressers and suburban adultery.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, ‘Carmilla’ (1872).

Le Fanu’s tale, published in 1872 from the eerie and gothic collection, In a Glass Darkly, paved the way for many subsequent publications such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The depiction of Carmilla as a female lesbian vampire has proved influential in countless narratives over the centuries. The story opens in Styria, a “lonely and primitive place” it is instantly recognised by the narrator, Laura, as being Gothic in feel and style. Carmilla’s presence in the castle of Laura and her wealthy English father in Styria comes about when the carriage carrying Carmilla and her mother crashes nearby. The unsettling mother figure cannot stay for long and as Carmilla has not quite recovered from the accident, asks if she can stay with Laura and her father and be collected again in three months. They agree and Laura, who has been lonely in the isolated area, is content with some suitable company. As the weeks go by Laura becomes weak and ill and strange occurrences begin to creep upon the household…. As it is just over a month to Halloween and a perfect time to read this gothic creation, I won’t give too much away! ‘Carmilla’ has been proven as an influential story for vampire narratives succeeding it to date. Because today’s society has something of an obsession with vampire novels: the Twilight series, Anna Rice’s sensational gothic novels and many others; it is satisfying to recall that Irish writers such as Stoker and Le Fanu had such major parts to play in the development of the Gothic literature genre.

William Trevor, ‘The Ballroom of Romance’ (1972). 

Trevor, originally from Mitchelstown in Co.Cork, is the author of this poignant story of Irish rural life, ‘The Ballroom of Romance’. The story focuses on the lonely and eventless life of Bridie, a thirty-six year old woman who resides in the hills of rural Ireland looking after her disabled father, a kind and compassionate figure. Trevor’s image of rural Ireland is one of isolation and gloom, an almost outcast society. Bridie’s only release from her life on the farm is her cycle every Saturday evening to the blue and pink dancehall named The Ballroom of Romance, ran by the Dwyers. Bridie is now one of the eldest women who attend the dancehall, along with Madge Dowling who is thirty-nine. As the night wears on and she dances with the men and small talks with the women, her past hopes and regrets open up like a wound in her lonely heart. She recalls her first love, Patrick Grady, who had been stolen from her by a girl who had never even attended the dancehall, they had then emigrated to Wolverhampton as husband and wife. Her efforts with the dancehall band’s drummer, Dano Ryan go unnoticed as it becomes apparent that he will eventually marry his widow landlady, Ms. Griffin. The injustice of life becomes too much for her at this point, she wants to cry but does not allow herself the selfish release. Throughout the story Bridie does not protest her unfair existence, all of her grievances are met by acceptance and resilience. Bridie knows that she will eventually marry the drunken bachelor, Bowser Egan when his mother dies and though she does not love him and knows his drinking will be a problem for her, at least she will not be alone. The story is an image of past Ireland; of isolated rural living, of cycling eleven miles to dancehalls, six miles to go to mass, of Kerry Cream biscuits and hopes of the Yanks coming to the area to save them all from unemployment and to bring some excitement to the misery. Trevor pours all of the loneliness, disappointment and desolation of past rural Ireland into the pages of ‘The Ballroom of Romance’, his depiction of Bridie is heartfelt, realistic and powerful; Brenda Fricker takes on the role effortlessly in the equally moving film version, directed by Pat O’Connor in 1982.

Anne Enright, ‘The Portable Virgin’ (1991). 

This short story, taken from a collection of the same title won the Rooney Prize in 1991. Enright’s ability to put into words the clearest articulation of the female psych that I have ever come across is, in the least, astounding. Her characters do not need strong story-lines; in the most general and everyday events Enright produces some of the most passionate and heartbreaking narratives in Irish literature. ‘The Portable Virgin’ is no different to this; it is the story of a woman, Mary, who discovers her husband’s affair with a woman, also called Mary. Mary goes to the hairdressers in a bid to make herself look like her husband’s mistress. She steals a handbag in the hairdressers, assumably the mistress’s and pours the contents out on Dollymount Strand. In the bag she find the statue of the Virgin Mary and drinks the contents, realising she will not leave her husband, because she loves him. Though this ending can be deciphered in two ways which if you read it, you will see clearly. The language of the story is raw and the images are familiar, BBC and Judi Dench on tv, the scene in the hairdressers, Dollymount Strand; yet, simultaneously, they are unfamiliar, uncomfortable even. Enright expresses the inner conscience of a betrayed wife as realistic and heartbreaking as she struggles with her identity as a wife and as a woman. The portable virgin she finds in the mistress’s bag signifies to a society still obsessed with maintaining a religious image even in the most contradictory circumstances: the statue of the Virgin Mary from Lourdes that could be found at the bottom of any Irish mistress’ handbag.

A Difference of Opinion, Unresolved

Two prolific writers have left us in as many days this week. On Monday Maeve Binchy passed away from a short illness and many have written of her delightful character and steady literary output, culminating in some 15 novels. I have been assured of her prodigious ability in the fiction genre and quality of her narrative but, alas, I feel somewhat ashamed at my ignorance of her work. She was native to my own Ireland; you could not enter a bookshop without noticing Binchy alongside Banville on the fiction shelf.

The other was an American and he passed away on Tuesday at the ripe age of 86. Gore Vidal was at first an author of novels but he could turn his hand to any production literary. His prolific career spanned over 60 years and he chalked up tens of novels, numerous plays, screenplays and a phenomenal number of essays. His first major novel that earned attention in the literary world was The City and the Pillar, a ‘coming out, coming of age’ novel, dedicated to Vidal’s first love interest Jimmy Trimble. Trimble died while serving for his country in World War 2 and it is widely known that Vidal was deeply affected by this and indeed said himself that he never could feel what he felt for Trimble for anybody else ever again. This early loss in Vidal’s life hardened him and from then on was not a man sentimentalism, but one of cynicism.

His literary output was enormous and is only overshadowed by his peer of the left, Noam Chomsky, but his most brilliant skill was that of the orator. He was a quick-witted, sharp-tongued and eloquent master of speech. His grandiloquence was rivalled only by the Anglo-American Christopher Hitchens. Indeed, a comparison that is not without its merit is the one proffered upon Vidal by some, who speak of him in the same breath of Oscar Wilde. It is true that he was very open about his sexuality, he was extremely witty and humorous and was a contrarian in every sense of the word.

As a contrarian it is only natural to have some who are hostile and some that are just downright resentful of you in the worst ways. Gore Vidal had very public disputes with a number of individuals like Norman Mailer, for instance. Following a number of taunts from Vidal, Mailer threw a glass of whiskey in his face and headbutted him. William Buckley threatened to ‘sock’ him on live television. He had a number of disputes but, later on in life, his main one was with the United States.

He was increasingly scathing about some aspects of the US. His main critique of the US was that the US was a modern-day Imperialist power; he called it a ‘militarized Republic’ and not a democracy. He was also critical of the education system stating on live American television that “We have the worst educated population of any first world country… your lack of education is the joke of the world”.

Many were bewildered by Vidal’s conspiratorial tendency later on in life. In an interview on War and Iraq he stated that the American people had more to fear from the Bush Administration than from Militant Islam. None were more bewildered than Christopher Hitchens. The pair met in the 70’s when Hitchens was working for the New Statesman. The two contrarians took to each other quite well, which is surprising because usually when two charismatic contrarians with fantastic ego’s collide, the result is almost always ugly.

They remained friendly and some years later Vidal phoned Hitchens and asked if he would be his heir when he passed away. Hitchens was duly flattered and gladly accepted. They’re saddening divorce, as it were, came following the September 11th attacks on the US, and the consequent decision of the US to invade Iraq. Gore Vidal was staunchly against such an invasion while Hitchens was vocally for it. He lost many friends over his support, Vidal being undoubtedly the most notable. Vidal then, publicly, insinuated his retraction of his proposal as Hitchens as his heir. Hitchens agreed.

Hitchens wrote an article entitled ‘Vidal Loco’ which suggested that Vidal’s old age, coupled with his incessant anti-US rhetoric and conspiratorial tendency had overshadowed the career of a great novelist, essayist and general all-round literary giant. Speaking positively of Vidal pre-21st century he said that he ‘had the rare gift of being amusing about serious things as well as serious about amusing ones’. The world seems a little less colorful since the parting of these two great contrarians, and it is even more bitter knowing they both passed away without resolving their only disagreement in life, the one that will separate them forever.

City of Words: a literary tour of Dublin

I was looking around for rainy day ideas recently (just in case we should have a wet summer, perish the thought) and I came across a very informative mini-brochure produced by Dublin City of Literature. This is a guide (with a map) to all things literary in the fair city of Dublin and includes a list of statues of well-known literary figures and their locations.

Armed with details about twenty-eight literary hotspots you really have no excuse not to get out and about this summer and explore Dublin’s literary heritage both written and oral. The guide has a map of the city centre so it is easy to plan a walking route. I presume the initiative was aimed at tourists but it is often true that locals do not know what goes on in their own backyard. Now, there is no excuse for ignorance of local events.

So where to go first? Well, you could do worse than go on a literary statue tour to get you into the swing of things. Great photo opportunities too, though I am prepared to admit that dry weather is preferable for this bit. I am sure I am not the only person by a long way to have taken pictures of family and friends sitting next to Patrick Kavanagh on the bank of the Grand Canal. Apart from Kavanagh, there are monuments to Shaw, Goldsmith, Burke, Joyce, Wilde and Behan dotted about the city. Get snapping folks!

The City of Words guide places one of my favourite cultural institutions, Chester Beatty Library at the top of its list. I am sure the attractions are intended to be listed in no particular order but this library is a very good place to begin a literary tour of the city. My reason for saying that, is that the collection at the Chester Beatty Library takes the visitor right back to the early history of the written word in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. From taking in that wider perspective, you can take a mental and physical leap over to see what the National Library of Ireland has to offer. Then go on to visit the Dublin Writers’ Museum to catch up with Yeats, Joyce and Beckett et al to bring you into literary Dublin with a bang.

When you have had enough of studying past famous writers you could always find time to listen to the spoken wordsmiths of the present. Stop off for a storytelling session with Dublin Yarnspinners who meet at the Teachers’ Club in Parnell Square, or catch up with the latest Narrative Arts Group events or try one of the Milk and Cookie story sessions in Temple Bar.

Whatever your literary bent there is sure to be something in and around Dublin to make you think a little. Who knows, you might even get your own literary juices flowing. For more information on the venues and up-coming events, follow the links given to the places mentioned above.

Just remember to take an umbrella along with you…

International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012 Shortlist is announced

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Andrew Montague announced the shortlist of ten titles for the 2012 International IMPAC awards last week. As readers will remember from an earlier Irish News Review report, this shortlist is the result of the whittling away of a long list of 147 titles chosen by libraries all over the world. Libraries in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, the Netherlands and the USA have nominated the shortlisted titles.

This is the full shortlist:

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Britain/Sierra Leone)

The Matter with Morris by David Bergen (Canadian)

Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer (British/Australian)

Matterhorn by Karl Malantes (American)

Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin (American)

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (American)

Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor (British)

Limassol by Yishai Sarid (Israeli) translated from Hebrew by Barbara Harshav

The Eternal Son by Cristoväo Tezza (Brazilian) translated from Portuguese by Alison Entrekin

Landed by Tim Pears (British)

In this sort of award, you always have favourites that you hope will make the shortlist because you liked them so much. This year I note that none of my choices made the cut; having said that I am looking forward in particular to reading the two translated novels chosen. Most of the titles on the list are fairly well known already so it is interesting to come across something you might not otherwise have noticed. No doubt, the relevant publishers are already gearing up production of extra copies. Even the eventual runners up can hope to increase sales by the increased attention from a shortlist placing.

A pity that of the ten titles shortlisted, only two are from translated work. The list is dominated by work from Anglophone writers, but that is the luck of the draw. In a democratic process, you are not necessarily going to agree with all of the decisions. There are however, some newer faces on the shortlist as two of the books are ‘first novels’: Matterhorn and Rocks in the Belly.  Several of the titles have been in the collective consciousness for a while. For instance, Even the Dogs was one of the Specsavers sponsored TV Book Club choices and A Visit from the Goon Squad has already won the Pulitzer Prize.

The winner will be announced on 13th June after much (no doubt heated) debate by the five judges moderated by the chairperson Eugene R Sullivan. The winning author will receive a trophy and €100,000 prize money. In the case of a translated work, the money will be divided between author (€75,000) and translator (€25,000). Although whether they can divide the Waterford Crystal trophy is debatable…

For more information on the titles listed and on the award process: