I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

US POLITICS

The Trump Enigma

Here we go again. For the third consecutive presidential election, US voters are likely to face a choice between a moderate career politician and an angry demagogue for whom lying and gaslighting are not just nasty political tactics but governing principles and reflexive personal traits. The result, the polls tell us, could go either way. How, reasonable people ask, could anyone with a shred of civic responsibility vote once for Donald Trump, never mind a third time? What is his hold on half the voting population? And what kind of political culture allows a would-be dictator and the cowed...
The pervasive national mood of cynicism makes it easier for a Republican or independent who dislikes Trump to vote for him. If all politicians are liars, the reasoning goes, and if Democrats are bent on creating a socialist state, I may as well support the liar who will uphold conservative values. Take the unbudgeably loyal MAGA, add in conservatives willing to vote holding their noses, and the possibility of a Trump majority becomes real.

BIOGRAPHY

Orwell: The Rewrite

Martin Tyrrell
Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life, by Anna Funder, Viking, 464 pp, £10, ISBN: 978-0241482728 Eileen O’Shaughnessy married George Orwell in 1936 and remained married to him until her unexpected and untimely death in 1945. Anna Funder’s Wifedom is primarily an analysis of that nine-year marriage, which Funder concludes as having been throughout to Eileen’s disadvantage, an ‘arms race to mutual self-destruction: she by selflessness, and he by disappearing into the greedy double life that is the artist’s, of self + work’. The Orwell that emerges from this account was variously exploitative, neglectful, hypocritical and adulterous, not to mention a tepid... Anna Funder finds that George Orwell’s previous biographers, in neglecting the role of women in his life, have been guilty of ‘fictions of omission’. To compensate for these perceived failings she has interpolated a number of imagined episodes into her own study, most of them showing Orwell in a bad light. While these are clearly signalled in the text, their long-term effect could be to confuse the readers as to which elements of her narrative can be taken as fact and which have been invented.

Dublin Review of Books

HISTORIOGRAPHY

Beyond Revisionism

Richard Bourke
Intellectual life is not beholden to any specific constituency. Given this freedom, academics in the Irish context should extend the framework of their inquiry, moving beyond asking which of two unions – a United Ireland or the United Kingdom – best caters to national allegiance. Nationality should not determine the remit of government. The legitimacy of a regime depends on the quality of its administration, not the principle of nationality as such.

IRISH HISTORY

The Third Man

Luke Gibbons
Reversing the standard model of a progressive metropolitan centre modernising a backward rural periphery, struggles in the Irish countryside ushered in the modern, but with a notable difference: instead of producing ‘economic man’ or homo economicus, the ‘land for the people’, in the eyes of figures such as Andrew Kettle, redefined proprietorship itself as part of a wider, collective political project of national self-determination.

ANTHROPOLOGY

Heaven Can Wait

Tom Inglis
Maybe the best guides to living ‘the good enough life’ are the Greeks, like Socrates, who while interested in the nature of the world and how we know it, and the nature of right and wrong, did not obsess but mostly got on with living, happy to hang out at the gym, staying healthy and taking pleasure in talk and company. He might have been happy in Skerries, being, in Miller’s words, ‘a philosopher who fully understood the principle of good craic’.

THE FAR RIGHT

Hatred’s Underground Streams

Farrel Corcoran
How fast is the influence of the far right in Ireland growing? This question has been on the agenda of public discussion since the assertion of the Garda Commissioner in May 2023 that the far right has failed to grow in Ireland, bucking trends in other European countries. ‘Across Europe,’ he said, ‘we have seen a growth in the far right that hasn’t actually been replicated in Ireland,’ adding that the numbers in the Republic remained small. The Commissioner’s measure of growth was the number of anti-immigrant protests taking place – which went down in the first half of... We may be entering an era of post-democracy, a malaise linked to pessimistic nostalgia, where a manipulative minority claims to speak for vaguely defined ‘ordinary people’, who can be induced to want whatever their leaders need them to want. Current developments on the far right may well be the seedbed for future digital post-democratic parties who hammer home a number of populist messages using the best organisational and user-surveillance techniques of the Internet age.

MEMOIR

A Hyphenated Identity

Like the optimistic white rectangle in the Irish tricolour, with its promise of conciliation between the Orange and the Green, the hyphen in ‘Anglo-Irish’ serves to obscure a dangerously intractable anomaly; and the career of Roger Casement, loyal servant of empire turned nationalist rebel, readily epitomises that contradiction. In the last of three tributes to the martyr of 1916, WB Yeats famously imagined ‘the ghost of Roger Casement … beating on the door’. This is the ‘sudden noise’ that startles the speaker in the poem’s opening line; and Casement’s importunate ghost serves as a reminder of how Yeats himself...
The problem with the compound term Anglo-Irish is that it too readily assumes that it is easy to be both. Yeats hoped for a spiritual union in a new Ireland of the peasantry and ‘country gentlemen’. Casement first served the empire, and then, following his conscience, Ireland. Others found no solution and were left stranded as the floorboards of their once comfortable ‘Big House’ existence began to rot beneath them.

FICTION

Sweeney Astray

Breakdown, by Cathy Sweeney, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 218 pp, £18.99, ISBN: 978-1399617789 Modern Times, by Cathy Sweeney, The Stinging Fly Press, 148 pp, €15, ISBN: 978-1906539832 ‘A Story Of Our Time: Notes on Kafka’s The Judgement’, by Cathy Sweeney, The Stinging Fly, Issue 44, Volume 2: Summer 2021 ‘“First Love” by Samuel Beckett’, by Cathy Sweeney, The Stinging Fly, Issue 34, Volume 2: Summer 2016 For well over a decade, Cathy Sweeney has been publishing short stories and the odd essay or review in magazines and journals such as The Stinging Fly, Banshee and The Dublin Review. Twenty-one stories were collected in Modern Times, which came out in 2020, and now we have her debut novel, Breakdown. Sweeney began writing stories in her thirties while working as a secondary school teacher. She wanted, she says: ‘to get out from underneath dominant narratives I felt trapped in almost like a fly in a web, which is why a lot of my stories are quite astray in terms of the way I think and write’. Writing as escape and survival, an undoing, a narrative flight from narrative. No doubt shreds of web cling to the fly that gets loose. ‘White’ is, Sweeney says, the first story she finished and thought, ‘this is a story’. It is the final story in Modern Times and serves as both urtext and summation for the book’s preoccupying themes, tropes and stylistic tendencies, many of which carry through, in expanded form, and with many alterations and additions, to Breakdown. Marriage as trap and some sort of comfort; nurtured consumerism and the dead conventionality of contemporary middle class life; what Sweeney has in interview termed the ‘untameable nature of desire’. An inwardly...
She had had enough of those young women ‘who blame everything on their parents’ generation and cry if they see a dead fox on the road’. Yet there was her own daughter, with all that ‘entitled suburban comfort … calculated self-presentation, advertised commitment to abstractions, unchecked hypocrisy, reflex sentimentality and a pitiless moral arrogance’.

SPEAKING EUROPEAN

Confusio Linguarum

Intended as an assault on rigid conceptions of identity, it is fitting that Philippe Mouche’s Bons baisers d’Europe is itself is a hybrid, blending the reflections of a Zeitroman with the plot-driven zest of an espionage novel. Major events of the recent past feature, including Brexit, the war in Ukraine, the refugee crisis, the gilets jaunes protests and the pandemic. More thematically, the book dwells on much-debated contemporary phenomena like disinformation and ‘fake news’, Russian meddling in Western European politics, populism and the European Union more broadly. Such matters pepper an entertaining though conventional spy thriller. Protagonist Fayez Barawi comes to Europe as a refugee from Iraq and sets himself the extraordinary goal of learning all of the EU’s twenty-four official languages. He achieves this after two decades, in the meantime adopting the pseudonym Fergus Bond and acquiring exceptional renown within the Union’s institutions for his linguistic and rhetorical exploits. Eventually rewarded by Brussels with the position of ‘Ambassador for Multilingualism’, he later becomes the bête noire of the continent’s growing identitarian movement, embodying all its adherents despise: the foreigner, the cosmopolitan, the polyglot. Various plots are hatched to assassinate Bond, such is the threat his awesome powers of persuasion are understood to pose to nationalist projects everywhere in Europe. Much of the book is devoted to these schemes, whose twists and turns it charmingly relays. True to its genre, Bons baisers d’Europe is a good romp. However, Mouche aspires to provide more than just entertainment. In fact, the book is informed by a distinct apprehension of Europe and what it represents. This vision derives much from the kind of cultural understandings of Europe that one associates with figures like Milan...
The great Italian semiotician Umberto Eco understood Europe as a product of difference, going so far as to write in his 1993 book ‘The Search for the Perfect Language (Making of Europe)’ that before the confusio linguarum, the confusion of languages, ‘there was no European culture, and, hence, no Europe’.

FROM PREVIOUS ISSUES

US POLITICS

The Trump Enigma

Kevin Stevens
The pervasive national mood of cynicism makes it easier for a Republican or independent who dislikes Trump to vote for him. If all politicians are liars, the reasoning goes, and if Democrats are bent on creating a socialist state, I may as well support the liar who will uphold conservative values. Take the unbudgeably loyal MAGA, add in conservatives willing to vote holding their noses, and the possibility of a Trump majority becomes real.

BIOGRAPHY

Orwell: The Rewrite

Martin Tyrrell
Anna Funder finds that George Orwell’s previous biographers, in neglecting the role of women in his life, have been guilty of ‘fictions of omission’. To compensate for these perceived failings she has interpolated a number of imagined episodes into her own study, most of them showing Orwell in a bad light. While these are clearly signalled in the text, their long-term effect could be to confuse the readers as to which elements of her narrative can be taken as fact and which have been invented.

Blog

Liberalism goes neo

  John Fanning writes: Twenty years ago Martin Wolf, chief...
Sounding the alarm bell on the progress of unbridled capitalism

Blog

The Irish Jew

Maurice Earls writes: The Irish Jew, a comedy by...
A Jewish lord mayor hero of the stage in 1920s Dublin

Blog

The Poet Says No

Eve Patten writes: On December 10th, 1923, the poet...
Yeats fails to support a fellow Nobel laureate jailed by the Nazis

LITERATURE

Nobel Noir

The award of the 2023 Nobel Prize for Literature to the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse did not come as a surprise. Fosse (born 1959) has long been a leading contender for the honour, which remains the most prestigious in world literature, despite recent controversies. First there was the decision (in 2016) to give it to Bob Dylan, who not so graciously could not be bothered to turn up to receive it (it must be admitted herewith that Samuel Beckett also did not turn up, but the context was a bit different). Then an internal scandal affected the judging committee itself, leading to the suspension of the prize for a year. The whole operation has got back on track with the award for Fosse, a clearly deserving candidate: the only surprise is that it has taken so long. Certainly the award must have seemed overdue in Norway, where Fosse is something of a national treasure, with a residence in the grounds of the Royal Palace, no less. No Ibsenian exile for him. It is quite possible that Fosse’s nationality actually told against him in the Nobel context: the award committee, which is of course Swedish, may have been reluctant to give it to a fellow Scandinavian, for fear of seeming biased. (Scandinavian writers, incidentally, have not fared particularly well in the stakes: neither Ibsen nor Strindberg, who were both alive in time, received it, though the lesser known Knut Hamsun did.) In the case of Fosse, however, there is no need for such suspicions: he is clearly, even in translation, a writer of global stature. He does fulfil what appears to be one of the essential criteria for the award: he has...
Fosse’s characters – perhaps not the right word – are constantly reaching out for something transcendent but just as constantly confronting realities of ageing, death, poverty and deprivation that cannot be and are not wished away. Sex, too, is a reality, though it is hard to discern whether it is a force for good or a distraction.

LETTERS

A Smiling Public Man

Patricia Craig
The Letters of Seamus Heaney, Christopher Reid (ed), Faber & Faber, 848 pp, £40, ISBN: 978-0571341085 Seamus Heaney was a steadfast and indefatigable letter-writer – though how he kept up the practice alongside his escalating activities and responsibilities, literary, academic, domestic and international, is a mystery. It wasn’t just a matter of dashing off missives at odd moments – though, on one short flight to Salt Lake City (we read), he completed a total of fourteen letters, ‘and as many more to do on the way back’. That these were mostly testimonials and recommendations doesn’t diminish the effort, or the... Seamus Heaney’s letters, many of them related to his escalating responsibilities as he became increasingly celebrated, amply demonstrate his personal kindness and the scale of his generosity to friends and others. They also reveal his fear of the effects of being just too visible, of becoming ‘a mascot’, or even, as he delicately phrased it, ‘conniving in the overstatement of my own meaning’. For all his amiability, indeed, he was always prepared to put his foot down whenever it came to overtures which he felt overstepped the mark.

PHILOSOPHY

Just Live

Life … is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills. Virginia Woolf What is the meaning of life? The question always makes my mind go blank. Then a negative answer comes. It has none. It has no more meaning than a cubic metre of space 17,000 miles above my head. What if I had to give a positive answer? I sometimes wonder about this but nothing ever sticks. Every time I consider the question I have to start again from nothing. It’s just happened again. This time it strikes me that the answer ‘It has no meaning’ isn’t negative or...
But what are ‘objectively worthwhile pursuits’ anyway? There’s a danger here of being too restrictive. We mustn’t set up a hard ranking that places one kind of pursuit – let us say art – inflexibly above another – say farming or fishing. We shouldn’t rule out intensely hedonistic lives. For any human activity, there are some who have an extraordinary gift for it. Some are brilliant at pleasure, indefatigable pleasure virtuosos.

ESPIONAGE

A Bodyguard of Lies

Stakeknife’s Dirty War: The Inside Story of Scappaticci, the IRA’s Nutting Squad, and the British Spooks who ran the War, by Richard O’Rawe, Merrion Press, 254 pp, €18.99, ISBN: 978-1785374470 The Padre: The True Story of the Irish Priest who armed the IRA with Gaddafi’s Money, by Jennifer O’Leary, Merrion Press, 256 pp, €18.99, ISBN: 978-1785374616 In his novel The Human Factor (1978), the wartime MI6 officer turned novelist Graham Greene takes us on an exploration of the motives of those involved in secret intelligence. The plot revolves primarily around a mole hunt for a spy leaking classified information, though what...
As a former MI5 officer observed in a 1992 newspaper article, it was essential that deep penetration agents join enthusiastically in the activities of the organisation even if they are seriously criminal. A deep-cover agent must be the ultimate method actor, firmly believing in the organisation penetrated while also remembering who he really works for. Dedication to both sides has to be absolute.

PERFORMING JUSTICE

Pétain’s Gift

Enda O’Doherty
France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Pétain, by Julian Jackson, Allen Lane, 445 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-0241450253 The essence of a nation is that all the individuals constituting it will have many things in common; and also that they will all have forgotten many things. Ernest Renan On August 25th, 1944, four years and a month after a victorious Hitler had himself photographed with Albert Speer and the sculptor Arno Breker against the background of the Eiffel Tower, the forces of the 2e DB (second armoured division) under General Leclerc entered the French capital, where, encountering relatively little opposition, they took... In essentially political trials like Pétain’s, various factors are at play, including revenge for the formerly persecuted – now the victors – and some degree of consolation or closure for victims’ families. They are also exercises in national pedagogy, enabling the new authorities to assert their particular version of history. For de Gaulle the kernel of the lesson to be delivered was that the Vichy regime was an aberration and that active collaborators with the occupiers had never constituted more than ‘a handful’ of the French people.