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

The Blame Game

Emmet O’Connor

It is not in the nature of states to give up territory. Why did the Provisionals, after several years of conflict, continue to believe that a few hundred men with Armalites could defeat a nuclear power? How could they claim to understand imperialism and believe that Britain secretly wanted to leave?


Quote, Don’t Dote

Declan Kiberd

In his latest book, Joseph Hassett seeks to restore the full poetic and personal context to some of Yeats’s most famous and most quoted lines. The result is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable books on the poet ever to call forth the skills of a gifted designer and of a true critic.


Mission Accomplished

Gerard Smyth

The thinking behind Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s working practice – the testing of experience, the quotidian, memory and knowledge through poetic process – is crucial to understanding her work and to the rigour that saw her finding her distinctive lyrical self at the outset of her career.


The Chancer Debagged

Alan Titley

Frank McCourt could scarce remember a time when the sun shone on the drab Limerick of ‘Angela’s Ashes’. I did the stupid thing of checking out the weather in those years of slosh and slop and lo, many of the summers and autumns were as dry as a cow pat on a humming July evening.


No We Can’t

Daniel Geary

Barack Obama had all the qualities that make for a great president. Competent, incorruptible, calm yet decisive, he had a genuine care for how his governance affected ordinary people. He was truly a once-in-a-generation politician ‑ which makes his failures only more disheartening.


Hear No Evil

Farrel Corcoran

It is widely accepted that there was often collusion – and more ‑ between loyalist killers and parts of the security forces in the North. But the instinct of the British state apparatus is still towards denial. Avoidance, censorship and obfuscation have created a suffocating blanket of silence.


Labour Titan

Henry Patterson

Ernest Bevin never knew who his father was and was orphaned aged eight. He started work as a farm labourer at eleven and later became a lay preacher and union organiser. As foreign secretary in the post-1945 Labour government he helped stiffen the Americans’ resolve to stand up to Stalin.


Reading Empson

Sean Sheehan

William Empson’s reputation as a severely intellectual critic can be offputting for anyone coming to him for the first time, but it’s a misleading view. His mission was in another direction altogether, seeking to clarify what appears abstruse by establishing roots in ordinary life.


News from Nowhere

Michael Foley

Some of what passes for news comes not from ‘the coal face’ but from the fevered brains of its inventors. In a guide to news in the era of fake news Alan Rusbridger says Murdoch’s Fox News will have a ‘special place in journalistic hell’ for its Covid coverage, which contributed to numberless deaths.


A Nurse in Wartime

Patrick Duffy

The tempo of life in wartime is swift and changeable. Men and women come into and slip out of one’s life, never to be seen again. Have they been killed or just posted to another theatre? Mary Mulry from Galway experienced WWII in London and Europe and wrote about it movingly in her diary.


Not for Gain Alone

Max Skjönsberg

Edmund Burke is often regarded as the father of political conservatism, but his views were in many ways quite different from those of a more recent Tory icon: society not only existed but was a sacred partnership between the living, the dead and those who were yet to be born.


A Naipauline Conversion?

Suryapratim Roy

A new biographical study charts VS Naipaul’s progress from confidently judging the world to be simply ‘what it is’ to more ambivalently ‘charting a way in the world’. In later Naipaul, we find a writer more sympathetic to both his own past and the way others make sense of their lives.


Knocking at the Door

Rory Montgomery

The early 1960s saw Ireland engaging in a concentrated round of diplomatic activity focused on a hoped-for entry to the European Economic Community. When the French veto of the UK application in 1963 also derailed the Irish one, attention turned to a free trade agreement with Britain.


The Cat Laughs

Kevin Power

Philosophers, John Gray argues, imagine that life can be ordered by reason and principle, an absurd notion a cat would never subscribe to. Gray sees our lives as random events and our natures as determined by the body. But foolishly we find it difficult to accept that we are mere creatures of biology and chance.


Velvet Resolution

Alena Dvořáková

Hermione Lee’s authorised biography of Tom Stoppard gives us, between the lines, the sense of a man who, while charming, could be driven and sometimes emotionally distant. He also seems to have been remarkably keen to live what he saw as the traditional life of the English gentleman.


The Homes of Tipperary

Thomas O’Grady

Donal Ryan has, in previous work, established his facility for inhabiting the minds and spirits of his characters through deft deployment of varying narrative points of view. In his new novel he opts for authorial omniscience, a strategy he employs skilfully and with radiant effect.


Sins of the Fathers

Maedhbh McNamara

The proportion of Irish men who acknowledged responsibility for the ‘illegitimate’ children they had fathered was low. Few single women had the resources to raise a child without the support of the father or of their family, neither of which, in many cases, was available.


But Is It Art?

Robert Ballagh

It is curious how ‘mimesis’, the ability to accurately depict nature, ‘skill’, the deployment of acquired manual dexterity, and ‘beauty’, formerly key elements in judging art, have been downgraded by the art industry gatekeepers in favour of the charms of the ‘innovative’ and the ‘cutting edge’.


A Hero and his Valet

Afric McGlinchey

The runaway slave Tony Small saved the life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald after a battle in the American War of Independence. The two became close, with Fitzgerald hiring Small as his personal servant and taking him with him on his travels, to revolutionary France and ultimately Dublin.


A Man About a Dog

Ricca Edmondson

What is alluring about dogs includes ‘their freedom, their lack of inhibition’, their dwelling in the moment – without apprehensiveness, but without hope. This is enviable in a way, yet we don’t entirely want it. Having a pet can extend one’s being, but it needn’t make one want to be a pet.


Mother of Invention

Maura O’Kiely

Aunt Betty wasn’t who she said she was. Also known as Eileen and Patricia, she liked to be called Munca, after Beatrix Potter’s pet mouse. Getting on in life ‑ moving on, moving up ‑ was her compulsion, and any lie, any hurt to her family, could be justified along the way.


Cauldron Bubble

Leanne Ogasawara

Fermentation is a familiar process in food preparation but has also long been used as a metaphor for societal change, cultural change, political change, economic change. Driven by bacteria, it is a force that cannot be stopped. It recycles life, renews hope, and goes on and on.


Landscapes of Violence

Rita Sakr

Hassan Blasim’s fictional work has shown extraordinary literary vision and innovation, leaving the reader stunned by the formidable method in the seeming madness of his narrative techniques, which drive realism and surrealism into a wildly intimate encounter.


An End to Growth

Tom Lordan

The catalyst for the growth of the world economy, manufacturing, which sparked into life in the nineteenth century and generated vast amounts of wealth, has finally exhausted itself, a new book argues. But will the end of growth also necessarily imply the end of work?


From Drift to Decadence

John Fanning

It has plausibly been suggested that we now have the capability to transform the five fundamentals of the global economy ‑ information, energy, transport, fuel and materials ‑ into sustainable production at minimal costs compared to the present. The problem is that we lack the will.


Yeats Now: Echoing into Life

Joseph M Hassett

Yeats Now: Echoing into Life, by Joseph M. Hassett, was published by Lilliput Press in September. Below we reprint its introduction. The Dublin Review of Books will publish a review of the work in the new year.


Hear the Silence

Magdalena Kay

Derek Mahon is not a poet to calm or ease the mind. He keeps us alert, thinking, in flux. It is hard to accept that ‘Washing Up’ will be his last word. Perhaps this is the greatest gift, that this posthumous volume shows a talent so utterly undiminished, so equal to the challenge of contemporary life.



Maedhbh McNamara

In the early decades of the independent state, a woman who wished to flee her husband’s violence encountered a host of economic, legal and social obstacles. She had few legal remedies and no access to divorce. She was almost certain to be financially dependent.


From the Pleasure Ground

Joseph Woods

Richard Murphy’s publishing life began in the 1950s and culminated in his collected poems in 2013His poetry has its feet firmly in the last century, while the late poems and prose projects, including his marvellous memoir The Kick, firmly establishes him in this one.


Against the Vanishing

Enda Wyley

Throughout her new collection, Mary O’Donnell proves herself a smooth stylist, converting ideas, emotions, opinions into genuine poems that have a visible and an invisible subject. It helps that her imagination is a sturdy one.


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


A joyful sorrow

There is a word – schadenfreude ‑ for delight in another’s misfortune, but is there one for sadness in another’s joy? When Ed Vulliamy complained to American friends about Britain they replied ‘But we’ve got Trump!’ Trump, he responded, will pass – and now, joyously, has passed - but Brexit is forever.


The Caning of Sumner

In a long-famous outrage in 1856 in the US Capitol, anti-slavery senator Charles Sumner was severely beaten by Congressman Preston Brooks. It is no coincidence that the mob that invaded the building this week carried the Confederate flag. More than anything else it is white supremacy that fuels American violence.


How to Disappear

The writer and activist Stella Jackson was a woman well-used to be being cast into the shadows, or to being defined in relation to men ‑ her father, the communist historian TA Jackson, her lover, Ewart Milne, and less frequently Cork writer Patrick Galvin, briefly her husband.


The Ignoramus ‑ In His Own Words

Almost 58 million Brazilians voted for President Jair Bolsonaro, a man who never hid his nastiness, illiberalism, backwardness and general political ignorance. There are many ways of studying ‘bolsonarismo’, but one of the simplest is just to let him and his cronies speak.


Rupture Rapture

A hundred years ago this month Yeats published ‘The Second Coming’ in an American magazine. The poem, Joe Cleary argues, did not wait to reflect calmly on rupture and crisis but swallowed them hot. Art does not brood on historical events but aspires itself to be the event.


Letter from Paris

I have met people, including some of my friends and their teenage children, who were proud to say, after the terrorist attacks, that they were definitely ‘not Charlie’. Many indeed felt that the cartoons led to Islamophobia and were an elitist insult to an oppressed and powerless minority.


A Difficult Healing

Donald Trump’s exit is gratifying. The United States will now have a president who is decent, civil and honest. However, in a political society which has never been more divided and in which citizens have this year bought 17 million guns, uniting the people will not be easy.


Derek Mahon, the poet

Although Mahon was the last poet one would accuse of naivety, he was attracted to an ideal of simplicity, writes Magdalena Kay. This correlates with a tacit conviction that feelings of insignificance can bring on ecstasy: ‘Such tiny houses, such enormous skies!’


Derek Mahon: 1941-2020

Derek’s was a life characterised by a certain turbulence, dedication to his craft, a disputatious impulse and an inner reserve sometimes bordering on the stand-offish. But when the mood took him he was uproarious company.


A Long Way Down

Brian Friel, in ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’, refers to the sudden disappearance from their Donegal home in the 1930s of two of his aunts, Rose and Agnes. The play is not wholly autobiographical, but the true story of what happened to these women is deeply sad but perhaps not so unusual.



Thirty years after the publication of the ‘Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing’ many critics still dismiss Irish women’s writing as lacking ‘seriousness’ and deride them and their female characters for a supposed lack of ‘likeability’. Could it be that they just don’t like women?


John Hume 1937-2020

Two years ago, Michael Lillis published a review of two books about the former SDLP leader, enriched by his personal experience as an official of the Irish government in working with Hume in the diplomatic process which preceded the Belfast Agreement. We are republishing part of it here.


Foclóir or Folklore?

Darach Ó Séaghdha’s bestselling book ‘Motherfoclóir’ developed from his successful Twitter project ‘The Irish For’. In the book he has been willing, keen even, to lay into scholarly lexicographers past and present. But the number of mistakes in his own work does not inspire confidence.


When in Dublin …

A copy of the events magazine ‘In Dublin’ from 40 years ago, long filed away, reveals a city in which it was just becoming possible to publicise gay rights networks and when young whippersnappers like Fintan O’Toole and Colm Tóibín were starting to flex their intellectual and polemical muscles.


This England

While it cannot be ruled out that Boris Johnson will execute a U-turn at the last minute and throw Gove and Cummings under the bus, hard Brexit talk has taken on a dynamic that will be difficult to stop. If this is the course that is taken, Britain is heading for a harsh collision with reality.


That’s far enough!

The Dutch were told they could have a ‘sex buddy’ during lockdown but Boris Johnson appears to have ruled that sex can only take place between cohabiting couples. Fear of infection in fact has had a long history of affecting romantic relationships.


James Dalton – ‘an innocent man’?

IRA intelligence-gathering was highly functional during the War of Independence, but the threshold of guilt and the criteria for punishment could be capricious. Instances of putative informing could be shrouded in spite and the designations ‘spy’ or ‘informer’ sometimes no more than a label of convenience.



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’.