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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

A Safe European Home

Bryan Fanning

In 2015 Germany and Austria agreed on a policy which resulted in the resettling in Europe of more than a million Syrian refugees ‑ a far less daunting business than dealing with 30 million displaced people in the aftermath of World War II.


A Fetish for Failure

Eva Kenny

A few years ago the injunction to ‘Fail again. Fail better’ emerged as a mantra for the Silicon Valley types, ‘upfailing’ being, in inspirationalist thinking, just a stage of growth and self-enrichment. One shouldn’t need to say that this is all very remote from Samuel Beckett’s philosophy.


The Tigress in Winter

Rory Montgomery

After eleven years as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was forced to resign in 1990. She lived another 22 years, while ‘Thatcherism’ lived on as a political memory for longer. Perhaps Labour’s huge losses to the Tories in the Midlands and North in last month’s election suggest that she is now in the process of being forgotten.


Standing Up for Justice

Patricia Craig

Mary Ann McCracken, sister of the executed 1798 leader Henry Joy, was an advanced thinker, a dedicated philanthropist and a model of composure, dignity and firmness. Long surviving her brother, she could be seen on Belfast docks aged 88 handing out anti-slavery pamphlets.


A Lick of Red Paint

Henry Patterson

The most intellectually influential journal of the British Marxist left found itself, over half a century, unable to say anything about the conflict in Ireland. Embarrassed by the sectarianism of the Provo campaign, British leftists nevertheless remained fixated on ‘the anti-imperialist struggle’.


An Ordinary Evil

Kevin Stevens

‘Game of Thrones’ is ubiquitous in our culture, yet two-thirds of millennial Americans do not know what Auschwitz is. A new study of Josef Mengele reminds us that we do not live in a world of sorcerers and dragons but one in which ordinary people are capable of unimaginable evil.


Paper-thin Walls

Andy Storey

The late Peter Sutherland was ‘among the most influential powerbrokers of the last thirty years or so’. Unfortunately, his biographer’s inability to seriously grapple with his exercise of that power causes the reader to veer between exasperation and, too often, frustrated laughter.


The caricature or the man?

Marilyn Piety

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s reputation suffered after attacks on him in a contemporary satirical journal, and his response to those attacks. But were the attacks fair or accurate in the first instance? And have we now been left with the caricature rather than the man?


An Englishman’s Arthur

Thomas Earls FitzGerald

The writer of Arthurian fantasy TH White sat out the Second World War as a conscientious objector in Co Meath. This long sojourn doesn’t appear to have given him any great love of the Irish people, whom he seems to have blamed for spurning the benefits of British civilisation.


Digging Deep

Amanda Bell

Robert Macfarlane’s latest exploration of the natural world leaves one with the impression of the world as a hollowed-out vessel, infinitely fragile and perilously finite, a honeycomb packed with toxic waste which will ultimately disintegrate like an aged wasps’ nest.


On Quijotismo

Leanne Ogasawara

Cervantes’s ‘Don Quixote’ was about a man who steps out of the matrix. Tilting at windmills, on a quest for a princess, he appears crazy ‑ and he forces us to consider that maybe we are crazy. This is why over four centuries he has remained an indispensable hero.


Rí-rá agus rumpy-pumpy

Philip O’Leary

Free of Victorian respectability, Gaeltacht Irish did not develop separate registers of acceptable and ‘dirty’ words. The fact that Mairtín Ó Cadhain wrote about sex scandalised those for whom the Gaeltacht was more holy ground than a place where people actually lived.


Smile, and turn up the power

Martin Tyrrell

In a Yale experiment in the 1960s, social psychologist Stanley Milgram found that large numbers of ordinary, inoffensive people were prepared to administer painful electric shocks to another person, similarly ordinary and inoffensive, sometimes even when a fatality seemed possible.


Macavity was there

Matthew Parkinson Bennett

Founded in 1929, Faber & Faber had the benefit of the best connections and an astute director who also happened to be one of Britain’s greatest poets. Still, it might not have survived all those years as an independent publisher had it not been for a certain collection of children’s verse.


A troll avant la lettre

Luke Warde

‘You can’t say a thing these days’ is the predictable chorus of the reactionary in the face of ‘political correctness gone mad’. In reality they say all they want to say: as the French antisemitic writer Céline put it, ‘once you’re recognised to be a clown you can say anything’.


Mina’s Lair

Neil Hegarty

Bram Stoker is standing at his window, peering out anxiously at a figure below. The young Oscar Wilde wishes to whisk him away on a healthy, liberating seaside constitutional – but Stoker will have none of it: it wouldn’t do to be seen in the company of such a one, not in gossiping Dublin.


A Fog from Reykjavik

John Fleming

A participant-observer study of the making of The Fall’s 1982 album ‘Hex Enduction Hour’, recorded in Iceland and at a cinema in Hertfordshire, drips decency and likability. It could be profitably patented as a pragmatic template for art memoirs or biographies.


Questions of Balance

Peter Robinson

It is the balancing act of drawing transitory subjects from the experiences of a life, presenting them with a deftness and lightness of touch that still delivers a weight of implication, while shunning overt claims to attention, that is so captivating and enabling in Enda Wyley’s new collection.


Waltzes and Quicksteps

Éamon Mag Uidhir

Gerald Dawe has managed throughout his writing life to evade contamination with the sectarian and ideological toxins that pervade his native Northern ground. In his person and in his work he is the consummate united Irishman, equally at home in Galway, Dublin and Belfast.


Through the Tarmac

David O’Connor

In Deborah Levy’s new novel we are left with a sense of boundless complexity, the intertwining of present, future and past, of memory, dream and wish, hurt and desire, presence and absence, love and hate, and everything that slides between such simplifying distinctions.


Fearing the Forest

Miriam Balanescu

Max Porter’s follow up to ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’ explores the physicality of language, earthiness, the smell of ink and metal in print. The layout of the text is highly experimental: words drip, curl and crawl off the page, reminding us of their tangibility.


Thinking About Women

Caroline Hurley

Lucy Ellman’s massive new novel is an encyclopaedic narrative whose stream of consciousness style recalls Rabelais and Sterne, Kerouac, Woolf, Vonnegut, and of course Joyce, the subject of one of three classic biographies of Irish writers written by her father.


Words of love, words of venom

Neil Hegarty

Christine Dwyer Hickey has written a profoundly empathetic novel, its impact all the greater for its abiding reticence. Its great achievement lies in its balance of a deliberately unshowy form and tone and the great sweeps and depths of feeling embedded with the narrative.


The past present

Afric McGlinchey

What distinguishes Peter Sirr’s latest collection from the usual themes of nostalgia and consciousness of time passing is a kind of psychic connection with both the observed and the unseen worlds, a conflation of past and present, where ‘centuries hang like apples on the trees’.


Ulysses Usurped

Tiana M Fischer

The protagonist of Mary Costello’s new novel is a Joyce obsessive. Sadly, he seems to have been less enriched than ruined by ‘Ulysses’. And while desperately trying to be Leopold Bloom, he has more of a touch of Stephen Dedalus about him than he realises.


Down among the Greeks

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

References to a First Communion, a birthday, suggest a recognisably Irish calendar, where seasons, generations, routine festivals, interweave, and time tolerates these interlocking layers of the traditional and brand-new, which sit alongside a range of reference from classical mythology.


Nobber is Hell

Michael O’Loughlin

It is Co Meath in the fourteenth century, the plague year of 1348 in fact, and on the frontier a group of Norman adventurers brushes up against the Gaels. The ensuing bloody clash resembles the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.


Navigating loss

Amanda Bell

Mary Noonan’s descriptive powers recall, in their meticulous detail, Elizabeth Bishop. She is a poet of the senses – this collection is drenched in colour, from the blue of her father’s eyes to the dreamy greens of the swamps, but of all the senses, sound is perhaps the most prominent.


Listen up, kid

Maura O’Kiely

One hundred celebrities offer advice that they feel might have been useful to their younger selves long before they were famous – and in many cases rich. The advice ranges from the endearing to the surprisingly revelatory, to the brave and wise, to the predictably smug.


Ciaran Carson 1948-2019

Michael Hinds

Ciaran Carson drew on the supple lines of narrative, melody and rhythm that run through traditional music. As with other great modernist poets, he brought poetry beyond word-music into a dizzying and organic dance; for rhythm, the closest to him in the past century was Fred Astaire.


Getting to Grey

Liam Hennessy

Bipolar disorder has been explained as an attempt to create a world in which everything is either black or white. The illness can only be treated, it is suggested, when the important third element is introduced.


Astonished at Everything

Peter Sirr

Generosity and largeness of vision seem to meet happily in the poems of Uruguayan-French writer Jules Supervielle, which seem to cover great distances in short spaces.


All or Nothing

Joschka Fischer

Those Germans who argue so vehemently against a so-called transfer union should realise that the EU has always been such a union. France got the CAP for its large rural economy and Germany the common market for its strong industry. Little has changed since.


Birds, beasts and flowers

Gerald Dawe

DH Lawrence’s poetry offers a record of the powerful current of physical pleasure, the elusive joy of witnessing that which is different, and the kind of opinionated prickliness when things are not what they seem to be or should be.


The Stilled World

Nicola Gordon Bowe

Unsentimental, sparing and unspecific, the painter Patrick Pye has sought figurative images to represent symbolically “the archetypes of our humanity” depicted in an alternative universe where expiation has been achieved.


Forthcoming Events and News

A regularly updated diary of events of literary and artistic interest and news from the publishing and arts worlds


Out with the Old

Ireland’s population declined from over eight million in 1841 to 4.5 million in 1901, 2.9 million in 1931 and 2.8 million in 1961. It had long been suggested that self-government was the key to tackling decline, but clearly it was not sufficient, the real upward swing coming only after entry into the EEC.


The Electability Obsession

Those supporting centrist candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination suggest that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not electable in a contest with Donald Trump. But there is really no evidence that any of the four leading candidates is less electable than any other.


Looking after Number One

A rereading of a classic two-volume biography of Julius Caesar reveals a vain, grasping and unscrupulous individual, but also a man of vision, talent and unquestionable leadership skills, political to his finger-tips, who would stop at nothing to satisfy his voracious ambitions.


A Sunburnt Country

In response to Australia’s calamitous forest fires prime minister Scott Morrison and his government blandly reassure Australians they have ‘been there before and come through’, thus enacting the dictum that power is the capacity to talk without listening and the ability to afford not to learn.


What’s happened to Scottish Labour?

British Labour’s seats in Scotland were always an important part of its majority - when it got a majority. Last week it recorded its lowest percentage vote there since 1910. Why? Because it behaved as if it owned its seats and failed to listen to what its working class voters told it they wanted.


Fiat lux

Lucy of Syracuse was a young woman of strong principles who wasn’t going to let anyone put one over on her. Today she is honoured as the bringer of light in darkness, an appropriate saint for this time of year.


Things can only get better

After another defeat for the Labour Party in Britain it is time for some clear thinking, and action. It's not as if this debacle was not predicted. The party recovered from the depths once before, though one should be wary of thinking that the recipe that proved successful then can simply be repeated.


Harmless Hatred

Election results suggest that Scotland, once a supplier of many useful seats to the British Labour Party, has transferred its allegiance very decisively to the Scottish National Party. But is this likely to lead to independence and continued EU membership? That could well be a quite different matter.


The review as cultural bridge

Frank Kermode argued that the modern literary review offered academic writers the chance to introduce sometimes complex ideas about literature or history or art to a larger audience. All they had to do was to write clearly and not forget that learning can be a pleasure.


Clive James (1939-2019)

Clive James knew that an unintelligent intelligentsia is a permanent feature of human history. He knew that the hard-to-read would go on being worshipped, and that writers who were merely funny, informed, and scrupulously honest would have to find their way as best they could.


Regrets, he had a few

Jonathan Miller was famous as a comic actor, satirist, medical man, highbrow television presenter, theatre and opera director, and all-round intellectual. And yet he regretted having failed to concentrate on his medical career, telling many interviewers that he felt he had been a ‘flop’.


History wars

History books sell, particularly if they are packaged by publishers in a way that makes them attractive to the general reader in search of enlightenment. A recent history of France has sold more than 100,000 copies – though it is not everyone’s tasse de thé.


Why do fools fall in love?

The idea that because a person is beautiful, or handsome, she or he must be good is a trap that humans fall into time and time again. This causes a great deal of misery, but also provides material for thousands of popular songs and even some great novels.


The Real Susan

A recent widely reviewed biography has portrayed Susan Sontag as an imperious, vain and often cruel woman who had no real friends. The Susan I knew, writes Ed Vulliamy, was not like that at all but rather a humorous, listening person who preferred to talk of others than herself.


With the people

A new book argues that it is largely the insistence that central and eastern Europe should slavishly follow the western, free-market model that led to the success of ‘illiberal’ populism. Perhaps, but one should not forget the sins of the liberals, or the political skills of the populists themselves.


At rest in Zurich

James Joyce died in Zurich in January 1941 after fleeing Vichy France. There is now a proposal to have him exhumed and brought back to Dublin, but there is no reason to believe he is particularly unhappy where he lies in Fluntern cemetery, listening to the roars of the lions from the nearby zoo.


Fighting England with Knife and Fork

James Joyce, though ill-disposed to Irish establishments, had time for Arthur Griffith, the first president of the Irish Free State, who is referenced in ‘Ulysses’. This goes back in part to Griffith’s defence of Joyce’s right to have his views on Yeats’s Irish Literary Theatre heard.



A former minister for enterprise famously suggested that while Ireland was physically closer to Berlin it was spiritually, and economically, closer to Boston. As our neighbouring island prepares to push off into the North Atlantic, it is worth asking if this is still a tenable orientation for the state.



The following is an extract from Emer Nolan’s Five Irish Women: The second republic, 1960-2016, published this month by Manchester University Press.


The Unstoppable Irish, by Dan Milner

The Irish in New York faced much of the same hostility from a Protestant establishment that wished to exclude them as they did at home. But eventually they came to belong, based on their service in the US army their role in maintaining law and order, their political skills, and, not least, their sheer numbers.


Marriage and the Irish, Salvador Ryan (ed)

This fascinating miscellany comprises seventy-nine short pieces on marriage practices in Ireland over approximately 1,300 years. During this period the institution of marriage was organised around property, status, succession and, in the case of the elite, politics.


Rogue States, by Fred Johnston

In Fred Johnston’s new collection the subject is the experience of cancer or suspected cancer. The prevailing mood is one of grim fatalism; there is no belief in the medical world doing good. This is a world without Ms Nightingales.


A Narrow Sea, by Jonathan Bardon

A history of the interactions between Ireland and Scotland over two millennia, told in a series of 120 episodes, ranges entertainingly from the Roman governor Agricola’s plan to invade Ireland from Scotland to 21st century pitch invasions at Ibrox and Celtic Park.


To Live Like a Moor, Olivia Remie Constable

The cultural absorption or lack of it of large immigrant communities may not have predictable outcomes. The relationship between culture and politics, it seems, is not straightforward and drawing political conclusions from cultural practices is an inexact business.


The One Hundred Best Novels in Translation, by Boyd Tonkin

A new anthology of works of fiction translated into English is modest about its ambitions and disclaims any ambition to be ‘canonical’. Nevertheless it is a smartly executed work, which invites us to fill in some gaps in our literary education and ‘get out a bit more’.


Revivalism and Modern Irish Literature, by Fionntán de Brún

Once independence was won, the question facing Irish ideologues and leaders was how to make revival real. It was then that the tenuous and tentative nature of the relation between the cultural and the political became clear. Those different spheres would never march in lockstep.


Love Notes from a German Building Site, Adrian Duncan

In Berlin, an old building is being repurposed for use as a computer store. In the middle of a bleak winter, the construction workers have inadequate time, inadequate resources, speak many different languages and have managers fresh from the Celtic Tiger building boom. Nothing can go wrong.


Pirate Queen, Tony Lee and Sam Hart

The indomitable Grace O’Malley, pirate queen, is the heroine of a new graphic novel that will entertain and inform children from nine years upwards.


Nano Nagle, the Life and the Legacy, Raftery, Delaney and Nowlan-Roebuck

Nano Nagle’s emphasis on educating the Catholic poor had a political dimension and contributed to the integration of the several parts of Catholic Ireland into a whole which had the potential of politically focusing the majority. In this sense it is not too fanciful to see her  work as prefiguring that of O’Connell.


A Short History of Drunkenness, Mark Forsyth

A Ukrainian proverb can be taken to illustrate our human attraction – and perhaps our occasional uneasiness about that attraction – to alcohol, its pleasures and dangers. “The church is near,” it goes, “and the tavern is far. It is snowing heavily. I shall walk carefully.”


Monster Agitators: O’Connell’s Repealers, 1843 Ireland, Vincent Ruddy

O’Connell’s Monster Meetings came to an abrupt halt in October 1843 when the Viceroy  mobilsed four battalions of troops, some four hundred armed RIC and Metropolitan Police and moved three gunships into Dublin Bay 


Then Again, Pat Boran

In a poem about O’Connell Street’s Spire, the monument becomes a dagger, a skewer, an extended middle finger. None of the names are inclusive of us, the citizens; the Spire is the ‘we’ reduced to ‘I’, which might be seen as the opposite of Boran’s project, to expand the ‘I’ to ‘we’.