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

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’.


Tarantulas and Dynamite

Sean Sheehan

Nietzsche’s reputation was tarnished for a long time by his posthumous adoption by Hitler. In fact the philosopher was repelled by antisemitism. It is now clear that his writings were curated after his death by his sister Elisabeth to make them Nazi-friendly.


Morbid symptoms

John Wilson Foster

The Western literary canon is only one casualty in North American departments of English, superseded by courses designed to redress the sins of white male patriarchs and colonialists. The curriculum spirals outwardly, growing ever more specialised by cultural minority.


Martha or Mary?

Caitriona Clear

Should religious women stay in their own ‘female’ spheres, or compete on an equal level with men in worlds constructed by and for men? Some Protestant American women have chosen to follow the religious life quietly while others embrace showbusiness and razzmatazz.


For the dark times ahead

Andreas Hess

In the early 1930s Bertolt Brecht fled Germany for Prague, then spent some time in Paris before escaping to Denmark, Sweden and eventually Finland, before finally travelling via the Soviet Union to the United States. His experience as a mid-twentieth century refugee is far from irrelevant today.


The Greatest of These

George O’Brien

Colbert Kearney comes from a strong republican tradition: his IRB grandfather wrote the words of the national anthem. The grandson’s memoir, however, is less concerned with ‘the people’ than with persons, in particular his father, whose love for his family is here celebrated, and repaid.


A Champion for the Poor

Fergus O’Donoghue

Father John Spratt, a Dublin-born Carmelite priest whose energy seems to have been limitless, not only built Whitefriar Street church but established an orphanage, two schools, and a night refuge for children and dismissed servants. He also campaigned vigorously for temperance.


Is Larkin good for you?

Johnny Lyons

A defining characteristic of art, as Martin Amis wrote, is its inability to lower our spirits, even if its message is irredeemably gloomy. The genius of Philip Larkin’s poetry rests, at least in part, on his gift of somehow sublimating our appreciation of life by amplifying its ordinariness.


The church of unbelievers

Mairéad Carew

The language of religion is poetry, metaphor, symbolism and allegory. Scientists and religious people alike are both attempting to understand the deep mysteries of life and the aggressive, mindless jeering of the so-called ‘new atheists’ will get us nowhere.


Of bishops and nighties

Farrel Corcoran

A mildly salacious exchange in 1966 between Gay Byrne and a ‘Late Late’ guest, and the controversy which followed, were often later cited as a classic example of the binary clash between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Ireland. But was the controversy largely a media-fuelled affair?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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 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’.