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

Who Will Save Us?

Kevin Power

As ‘end of the world’ scenarios assume increasing plausibility, the canonisation of Greta Thunberg becomes completely intelligible. It’s just one of myriad ways in which the religious imagination continues to shape the secular world, like a restless sleeper disturbing a thin blanket.

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A Gratuitous Assault

Maureen O’Connor

Because Edna O’Brien’s family had a nice enough house and the children got educated, her circumstances couldn’t have been all that bad, a ‘New Yorker’ profile argues. This betrays a startling ignorance of the economic, social and ideological conditions of mid-twentieth-century Ireland.

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Brilliant Youths

Joseph Leahy

The key to understanding the appeal of Sally Rooney’s fiction lies in her ability to conjure generational concerns that are instantly recognisable but still transcend cliché. This is harder than it sounds: cliché forms at an accelerated rate in our hyper-saturated media environment.

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The Capital of Modernity

Terence Killeen

When James Joyce chose exile he opted not for England, where the Irish writer was an entertainer, but Paris, the epicentre of a ‘Europe’ that was utterly different from the Anglo-Irish world in which he had grown up, a world full of possibilities, openness and experiment.

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The Long Road to Peace

John Swift

On whether strategic thinking in peace negotiations should outweigh moral considerations, Bertie Ahern’s mind was clear. Isolating the extremes and supporting the moderates would not solve the problem: the challenge was to make peace with your enemies, not your friends.

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What Is To Be Done?

John Fanning

The business corporation has been in existence for centuries, but it was only in the last fifty years that the primacy of maximising shareholder return as its sole purpose was established as dogma. But now that dogma is being challenged, and sometimes in unlikely quarters.

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Humans and Other Animals

Róisín Kennedy

In an age obsessed with technology and consumerism Janet Mullarney’s work reverts to a basic humanity, but does so in complex ways. Her art, Declan McGonagle has written, reminds us ‘that we all swim in a sea of continuities, of memories and dreams which suffuse our reality’.

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Not With A Bang

Tadhg Hoey

In previous ages, the apocalypse was envisaged as a great, singular occurrence. What marks our age out more than previous ones may be the realisation that what we had thought of as one apocalyptically levelling event might rather come for us in a multitude of smaller waves.

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Father of Us All

Sean Worgan

Arthur Griffith, the founder of the Sinn Féin movement in 1905, has been criticised over many of his attitudes, notably an alleged antisemitism and a lack of enthusiasm for the labour movement. A new biography seeks to qualify and contextualise some of these judgments

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Rude Mechanicals?

David Blake Knox

The 19th century construction of Irish identity involved opposition to ‘English materialism’, with an accompanying tendency to belittle or exclude the industrial North East. But is Protestant desire to be ‘fully national’ sometimes like a man wanting to rent a room in another’s house?

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Not So Equal

Patricia Craig

They lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles, Dorothy Parker is supposed to have said. Bloomsbury continues to fascinate, sexual intrigue and intellectual hauteur being only part of the appeal. An absorbing new study focuses on the interrelated lives of five women.

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Little Women and their Pa

Maurice Earls

Louisa May Alcott’s father was a man of advanced views, a deist, vegan and ‘transcendentalist’. But, as is often the case with those of a theoretical and discursive bent, his practical abilities, as well as his appetite for the hard labour his utopian schemes required, were limited.

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Torturing for Democracy

Farrel Corcoran

Kurt Blome was a minister of Hitler’s Reich, directed its biological warfare programme and oversaw experiments on prisoners. He was not one of the seven Nazi scientists sentenced to death at Nuremberg; instead he was enabled to continue his research for the benefit of US military intelligence.

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Real Life is Literature

Catherine Toal

Responding to the claim that writers today draw increasingly directly on their own lives, Jonathan Franzen argued that nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’: the most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention.

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Acts of Hope

Peter Sirr

Poets can be parochial, powerful languages encouraging the sense that there is no need to look beyond their borders. Set against that, there is Osip Mandelstam’s ‘nostalgia for world culture’, a kind of alert openness, a feeling of being at home in an enlarged world of the spirit.

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The State of Us

Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado

Elaine Feeney combines linguistic verve, biting irony and unflinching commentary on modern Ireland to produce a tragicomic tour-de-force. Shocking, exhilarating and life-affirming, ‘As You Were’ is a masterful debut by a fresh new voice in Irish fiction.

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Getting Away

Caitriona Clear

A necessary literary device to throw characters together in unfamiliar settings, communal family/friend away-events feature a lot in genre and popular fiction. If fiction teaches us anything it is that we should steer well clear of attempting anything similar in real life.

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Into Us to Keep

Magdalena Kay

Seamus Heaney’s Virgil translation was one of a number of posthumous publications, but now it seems there is no more to come. As Auden wrote in memory of Yeats, the poet has become his admirers. And of course there are the poems, on offer here in a new selection by Heaney’s family.

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Pontifex

Anna Benn

For Michael, the engineer protagonist of Adrian Duncan’s new novel, lovers’ entwined arms are a reminder of the connections of girders on a suspension bridge. For readers sated with sensitive literary heroes, Duncan analytical and oblique approach to relationships could come as a relief.

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Daddy’s Girl

David O’Connor

Laura wants to be a big-time sharp-talking actress like those in the ’40s films noirs she watched with her father. She has loads of parts in her: ‘easy-to-see parts and long forgotten parts and parts I encounter in my problematic dreams. I have shadow parts. They do not wish me well.’

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The Ring of Truth

Theo Dorgan

There are things you ‘know for a fact’ but perhaps cannot prove. Sometimes the frustration of such situations can drive a journalist to turn to fiction, as Frank Connolly has done with a compelling story set against the background of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974.

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The God in the Attic

Fintan Calpin

The astonishing achievement of Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s writing is its construction of a world of metaphor and simile which is punctured and disrupted by the real. Her novel is the work of a poet, for whom the sensuousness of the material world is a reminder that to compare is to distort.

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In Deep Doodoo

Alan O’Farrell

Scandals which cause huge political ripples and even topple governments can result from both political and civil-service incompetence. A special adviser to Arlene Foster said that during his entire time in Stormont he never once saw minutes of a meeting involving his minister.

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Other Voices

Mícheál Ó hAodha

Where are the working people and the working class experience reflected in Ireland’s artistic and cultural sphere? Where are the struggles of those who have no permanent roof over their head and who are shunted from one room to another described?

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Kicking Against the Bricks

Daniel Fraser

Lars Iyer’s new novel, like his previous work, pushes away from the heaviness and satisfaction of much contemporary fiction, with passion, wit and a combination of philosophical depth and comedic play that are engaging, frequently brilliant and joyous.

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Blue Notes

Catherine Kelly

Cathy Sweeney’s characters are sometimes bored to death but the stories they inhabit are never boring. Sweeney’s writing offers neither solutions nor relief. Instead, her stories are like splinters, getting under your fingernails and leaving little bloody marks.

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Hell-bent

Leanne Ogasawara

Imagination is essential for human understanding and compassion. But in Hannah Arendt’s words, the human heart must go visiting, otherwise we lose our power to be moral. The ability to look at the world from another’s point of view in an imaginative way.

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Neither West Brit nor Little Irelander

Gerald Dawe

Irish Protestant identity  has always been a more complex and various business than is suggested by the image of a Big House aristocracy enduring terminal decline. Post-Brexit, the Republic will be forced to think more on this subject. Its past record has not always been inspiring.

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Manufacturing Victimhood

Clare O’Dea

First create a movement – not a party – which speaks up for ‘the real people’ and promises to punish their oppressors. Then proceed to the infantilisation of political language ‑ outrageous statements help ‑ and turn up the level of aggression, eventually creating a public sphere where shame no longer exists.

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From Head to Toe

James Peake

We have all internalised vast quantities of popular culture and carry around long-term what was intended to passingly divert. The disposable has almost conquered the internal, and Conor Carville’s achievement is to show us this in poems that are by turns vivid, horrifying, clever, funny and visionary.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Forthcoming Events and News

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

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Recollections in Tranquillity

Today, April 7th, marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the English poet William Wordsworth. He and his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with their book of poems ‘Lyrical Ballads’, were instrumental in launching the Romantic period of English literature.

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Italian Diary VI

‘Red Noses’, a play about the Black Death first performed in London in 1985, featured a team of players touring the plague-affected villages of 14th century France, offering an unusual remedy – ‘peacocks, not ravens, bright stars, not sad comets, red noses, not black death’.

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Cast a Cold Eye

In 1948, at the request of WB Yeats’s widow, George, and with support from Maud Gonne MacBride, an Irish Navy vessel was dispatched to France to bring the body of the poet back for burial in Co Sligo. And there now it lies - or perhaps it may be the body of the Englishman Alfred Hollis.

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Italian Diary V

The order in which we read news of recoveries or deaths in an article can change the tone, and consequently our mood. It is easy to be too upbeat but also to be the opposite. We are walking on very thin ice as Italy attempts to get through this emergency and eventually to exit from it.

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WT*

‘Good authors too who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose,’ was Cole Porter’s observation on falling standards back in 1934. But while they may have written such words in their manuscripts, they still found it hard to get them past their editors.

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Italian Diary IV

Unless we act together the gap between North and South in Europe and between the rich and poor countries risks becoming even wider. The result would be akin to what was inflicted on Greece during the financial crisis, but far, far worse.

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The Prememory of the Pandemic

The world has been taken entirely by surprise by the coronavirus pandemic. It appears as if nothing within living memory could have prepared us for such an unprecedented upheaval. But is that really the case?

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Italian Diary III

The beautiful city of Bergamo in northern Italy was once perhaps best known as the birthplace of opera composer Gaetano Donizetti. Now it is known as the epicentre of the corona virus, with a death registered every half-hour in recent days. Yet even here, there is some hope the tide may soon turn.

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Italian Diary II

Some ask if it is right for the State to shut down its economy because people are dying of a virus. Here in Italy #Covid-19 is killing 8 per cent of those who contract it. What kind of a state or State would we be in if we decided to just attempt business as usual in these circumstances?

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While you’re waiting

If you find you have some time on your hands over the next weeks –or even months – you might take some solace in literary works which deal with crisis and cataclysm, fears of the end of the world or ‘the end of civilisation as we know it’.

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Italian Diary

The number of deaths is increasing daily and although the vast majority of people in Italy are just staying put, working from home as best they can, there are still too many people out and about, going for walks and runs, especially in the cities.

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An Old Man’s Dreams

Whatever we have done, and perhaps even more so whatever we have failed to do, may pursue us through restless nights for many decades after our conscious minds have forgotten all about it.

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Such Beasts

Fables, Seamus Heaney has written, that corpus of tales of innocent or treacherous beasts and birds, were once part of the common oral culture of Europe, a store of folk wisdom as pervasive and unifying at vernacular level as the doctrines of Christianity were in the higher realms of scholastic culture.

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Beyond the Pale

The fraternisation of elements of the traditional right with figures from the new far right raises important questions. Is this just opportunism or is it a serious attempt to move mainstream conservatism further right and win respectability for opinions, attitudes and policies formerly considered beyond the pale?

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George Steiner: Paris, 1929 – Cambridge, 2020

George Steiner, who has died aged 90, was one of the pre-eminent critics and literary intellectuals of the twentieth century. He defended the European canon, which he saw as deriving from traditions which could be traced back to both Jerusalem and Athens, and practised a criticism that was based on admiration.

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THE SEAMUS MALLON I KNEW

He condemned every IRA and loyalist killing in the harshest terms, writes Andy Pollak. He also denounced collusion, harassment and sectarian bias by the RUC and UDR. In the face of government and unionist hostility, he demanded justice and equality from the security services and the courts.

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Death of a Cosmopolitan

Being European, for Ed Vulliamy, was not a matter of some pragmatic economic calculation. It was a thing of passion, of love for the old continent’s languages, customs and beliefs, its football, food and firewater. A European citizen no longer, he experiences the loss as a wrench and a violation.

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IRELAND IN THE EUROPEAN EYE, GISELA HOLFTER AND BETTINA MIGGE (EDS)

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.

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FIVE IRISH WOMEN, BY EMER NOLAN

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 

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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’.

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