"The drb sustains a level of commentary on Irish and international matters that no other journal in Ireland and few elsewhere can reach. It deserves all the support that can be given it." X
Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Pulling back the curtains

Emer Nolan

The heroines of the Victorian novel encountered a blockage in their lives that Sally Rooney’s do not. Might access to education have made a difference? What if Cathy and Heathcliff could have taken a module on Freud together, if Dorothea Brooke had been able to do a degree in medicine?


Born to provoke

Conor Linnie

Lucian Freud delighted in shocking his acquaintances with a series of stunts straight from the surrealist handbook. Dead and mounted animals littered his squat in a decaying Regency terrace house. Kenneth Clark’s wife was understandably appalled to find two dead monkeys in the oven.


Beating the odds

Patricia Craig

Edna O’Brien has been accused by some less perceptive critics of always writing about victims. But as she has insisted, and as is abundantly clear in her compelling new novel, she writes particularly of victims who survive, who pull through. She is celebrating resilience.


Trooping the velvet

Alena Dvořáková

November 1989 in Prague is remembered by its foot soldiers as a dizzying succession of demonstrations and hopeful propaganda expeditions into the provinces. No one was sure if the revolution would hold, and today it seems that many of its central values have melted away.


The Cream Separatist Movement

Luke Gibbons

Is the country destined to always lag behind the city? Sinn Féin, a creation of the urban bourgeois intelligentsia, took off as a national movement when it spread to rural Ireland, meshing with the vigorous co-operative movement, the countryside radicalising the city.


Ireland’s Imperial Elites

Seán William Gannon

Among Irish officers in the British army and colonial civil servants, ‘Irish’, ‘Anglo-Irish’, ‘English’ and ‘British imperial’ were seldom understood as mutually exclusive identities. That one could be simultaneously of Ireland, Britain, and empire was for most a self-evident article of faith.


History from the top II

Barra Ó Seaghdha

Amid the consensus about Ireland being a victim of politicians, bankers and out-of-control developers, is it right to forget the additional uncomfortable fact that large numbers of ordinary Irish people had been ripping off their fellow-citizens with ardour during the Celtic Tiger years?


People Power

John Swift

Does political democracy have a value in the absence of economic democracy? Should social distinctions be maintained? Ancient Athens largely practised a mixed system, with a modus vivendi between the classes that posed little threat to wealth and kept most public offices for the elite.


Speaking to the nation

Maurice Walsh

In their closeness to the church, practical timidity and occasional cautious defiance of authority, Ireland’s provincial papers in the early 20th century were exemplars of that elusive quantity ‘moderate opinion’. Yet by 1918 most had moved in the direction of Sinn Féin.


Dodging the consequences

James McNaney

Jonathan Sumption’s characterisation of the United Kingdom’s constitution is typical of many British writers. ‘Britain is an ancient State with a long and unbroken constitutional history.’ That is to say we are unique, and have avoided the upheavals and violence that have troubled other nations.


Up and doing

Giles Newington

The novelist John Buchan was both patriotic Scot and unionist Briton. And while his work often reveals an unpleasant racism, this sunny-tempered dynamo was still able, as someone from the political periphery, to respect cultural difference and aspirations to independence.


Muscular Contrarian

Paul O’Mahoney

While Enoch Powell was undoubtedly moved by principles, and in his own words possessed of ‘a savage reliance on the workings of my own intellect’, there was more artifice, more deliberation in and more conscious cultivation of his public persona than one might suspect.


The Real McCorley

Ian McBride

Guy Beiner’s intellectual ambition puts him in a different league from most contemporary Irish historians. There have been other studies based on particular events, but Beiner’s account of the afterlife of the 1798 rebellion in Ulster is the only one likely to be read internationally by serious scholars of ‘memory’.


Triumph of the Will

Kevin Power

Benjamin Moser’s biography tells us vividly what it was like to know Susan Sontag: it was a tough gig. But it doesn’t tell us what it was like to be Susan Sontag ‑ perhaps an even tougher gig. Nor does it tell us much about her work.


Wounded Heart, Divided Soul

Tim Murphy

“He Honored Life” ‑ these were the words inscribed on Jack Kerouac’s tombstone after his death fifty years ago this month. Kerouac certainly “ate the peach” and his death from cirrhosis at the age of forty-seven was one of the twentieth century’s great literary tragedies.


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.


Charlatans and Fools

Brian Trench

The early chapters of this book are a primer in identifying logical flaws, fallacies, rhetorical sleight-of-hand, bias, abuse of statistics and outright manipulation in the presentation of arguments against evidence produced by science. 


Law is Politics

John Reynolds

There has been no shortage of Palestinian legal initiatives, and no shortage of good Palestinian lawyers. What there has been a shortage of since the late 1980s, when the single democratic state project was formally abandoned, is political vision from the Palestinian leadership.


Warm words from the dreary steeples

Iggy McGovern

Can one still enjoy, after several decades, the stories of Benedict Kiely, empathise with their rural themes and collude with their soft sectarian notions in the aftermath of our thirty years’ war? The answer to all three questions is an enthusiastic yes.


Attentive Living

Amanda Bell

To pay attention to one thing is to resist paying attention to other things; it means constantly denying and thwarting provocations outside the sphere of one’s attention in order to be able to concentrate on what is essential.


A coming of age

John Dillon

The diary of the woman who was to become the wife of the prominent Irish Party politician John Dillon provides an intriguing insight into the social circles of substantial Catholic families in London and Ireland and the political alliances, and splits, in the nationalist movement.


Lost Worlds

Maria Johnston

It is Stephen Sexton’s great gift to be able to inhabit the ambivalences of both language and life and to somehow, through sensitivity, invention and tact, transform not only his own experience into art but transform a platform video-game into a thing of revelatory beauty.


In Tune

Gerard Smyth

Many of Moya Cannon’s poems relate to music and song. But more than that, when these, as they so often do, become the subject, the relationship between poet and her material deepens and the content lights up with increased wattage.


The Odd Couple

Catherine Kelly

Emma Donoghue’s tenth novel is concerned with the relationship between an elderly man and his eleven-year-old grandnephew, who is entrusted to him after his mother is imprisoned for drug abuse. While the narrative deals with some of the darker aspects of life, this is not a dark book.


What are we going to do?

John Fanning

Most people born today can expect to become centenarians, but the structuring of education and work are still built around outdated models. These are now under attack from two sides: the reality that retirement could last 40 years and the threat to jobs from automation, AI and robots.


Telling Tales

Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado

Zadie Smith has said that she is not by nature a political person, her business as a writer rather being ‘the intimate lives of people’. Nevertheless, she concurs with Orwell that all writing is political and has been particularly concerned to explore the politics of identity.


Freed White Dove

Enda Wyley

Catherine Phil MacCarthy’s new collection is preoccupied with the many tensions of French and Irish cultural and political history from the late nineteenth century through to contemporary times, tensions which are deftly revealed through personal stories of the many inhabitants of this book.


Many Rooms, Many Doors

Hugh O’Donnell

In poem after poem we recognise Jean O’Brien’s signature style, her unique perspective as myth-maker who takes what is real and gives it back to us in all its mysterious particularity, whether a health check or a sea ride from Holyhead to Dún Laoghaire, her daughter’s tattoo or a swing in autumn.


Divided We Stand

Cecilia Biaggi

Initially, unionists and nationalists equally opposed partition, which was first proposed by British politicians in 1912 as a short-term expedient to overcome deadlock. In this context, the creation of two parliaments in Ireland served to delegate responsibility for unification to the Irish.


In her Element

Kerri Ní Dochartaigh

In Kathleen Jamie’s new collection, the prose is matter-of-fact as well as lyrical – we come away full of a sense of things having been placed in order, dissected, rattled enough to ensure they fall back into place in a way that makes them catch the light that little bit more.


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


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.


The price of everything

William Petty was one of the precursors of modern quantitative economics. He anticipated the problem of valuing human life, which is central to modern cost benefit analysis, assessing the lives of the Irish who were killed in Cromwell’s campaigns to be worth about £15 each.


Within and Without

In 1579 Dublin’s pig-warden is Barnaby Rathe, bellman, master and beadle of the beggars. His main problem is less the escaped pigs who must be rounded up or the beggars than the slippery citizens who won't pay him for his labours. Peter Sirr on Dublin's walls.


And back to England?

The words ‘England’ or ‘English’ appear 356 times in Shakespeare’s pre-Jacobean plays but only thirty-nine times after Scotland’s King James took power in London. Conversely, ‘Britain’ appears only twice in the Elizabethan plays but twenty-nine times in those written under James.


Small Potatoes and Civil War

Acceptance or rejection of the Anglo-Irish Treaty was immaterial to tackling the problems facing independent Ireland. The ensuing Civil War is so iconic and so constantly referenced because our political leaders insisted it was of immense importance. But really it was not.


Is it time?

When the destructive tendencies of global capitalism seem beyond democratic control and truth is dismissed as ideology propagated by ‘experts’, when environmental degradation has got beyond the point of no return, then perhaps it’s time for the clever animals who invented knowledge to realise they have to die.


Orwell’s glimmer, Winston’s arithmetic

Back in 2003, Margaret Atwood suggested that the dating of the Appendix on Newspeak in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four clearly indicated that the message of the book was not entirely pessimistic. But was she the first to come to this conclusion?


The Other Sort

Séamus Lillis was moved to apply for a job in the Northern Ireland civil service back in the 1960s by the generous interview expenses on offer. He was surprised to get the position, and surprised again when, one Friday, a superior with whom he was having lunch said: ‘I’ve ordered a steak for you.’


Who do you think you are?

Primo Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’, published in 1947, and his much later ‘The Drowned and the Saved’ are for many the most compelling literary treatments of the Holocaust. Yet some people, particularly in America, felt that a person whose Jewish identity seemed so off-centre was not a suitable standardbearer.


A giant leap for whom?

It is not necessarily the case that progress in science or technology will be accompanied by equivalent advances in civilisation. In the decade when an age-old dream of mankind, long thought impossible, was finally being realised, white men still refused to drink their beer from the same glasses as Afro-Caribbeans or Asians in an English pub.


Wisdom Builds Itself a House

Sitting at a laptop, for all that our curious fingers flit across cyberspace, confines us to our private space. We need the opportunity to wander and discover and be let loose among the materiality of paper and physical buildings. Peter Sirr writes on libraries, theft and the clutches of Hades.


On not being reached

It is more than twenty years since the mobile phone first burst - or brrred – its way into our lives. Initially, in Dublin at any rate, it was not regarded as a marvel. Rather it was customary for everyone else in the pub to stare coldly at the recipient of the call, who if he had any decency would blush and hurry towards the exit.


Elephant? What elephant?

Jeremy Corbyn does not recognise the nature of the Brexit national division, nor does he see that it cannot be understood in the language of class division. This failure is hardly surprising, as he comes from a tradition where pretty much everything can be explained in that language.



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’.