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.

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One Book, Two Cities

Tom Wall
Strumpet City, by James Plunkett, Gill & Macmillan, 560 pp, €10, ISBN: 978-0717156108 Strumpet City was a bestseller when it was first published in 1969. RTE’s dramatisation of the book was possibly the station’s most successful production. Since then it has had many republications, and buoyed by its selection for Dublin City Council’s One City One Book initiative, it is again selling well. What makes the book and its story so enduringly popular? It has a lot to do with the fact that it is a rollicking good read. The story has a lot going for it. The servant and master relationship it portrays are as alluring to the Downtown Abbey generation as it was to the Upstairs Downstairs one of yesteryear. It’s a story of oppression and class insurrection culminating in a titanic battle, one side led by an almost messianic James Larkin, the other by the brooding, scheming William Martin Murphy. It’s got almost everything a reader might want: violence, comedy, romance; all except sex: that happens off-stage. Plunkett’s writing style may seem dated but nothing is lost in the telling. He uses uncomplicated, relatively short sentences without much digression or reflection. Dialogue predominates and he allows the characters to tell the story. It is a tale of the lives of more than a score of Dubliners during seven eventful, dramatic years. At a more fundamental level, though, the novel is the story of Dublin in its most turbulent period. Most have taken the ‘Strumpet’ of the title to be an illusion to Dublin’s teeming brothels “the haunts of sin” which Leopold Bloom was accused of visiting just a few years before. But Plunkett clearly meant it to be descriptive of the city itself in the same way that Denis Johnston, from whom he borrowed the title, did: Strumpet City in the sunset So old, so sick with memories Plunkett himself later confirmed this “I wanted Dublin itself to be the hero, you know, in a mystical kind of way, with Larkin as a sort of ‘Deus ex machina’.” It was the city, and not just the inhabitants of its Nighttown, that lay prostrate and prostituted; defiled by corrupt intrigues between slum landlords and city councillors – indeed many of the councillors were themselves landlords. Its superficial beauty and fading grandeur hid disease and decay. Lily Maxwell, the only prostitute to feature in the novel, epitomises the city’s condition. She believes she is…



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