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.

Home Uncategorized Pinning Down the Protean

Pinning Down the Protean

Philip O’Leary
Titley, by Máirtín Coilféir, Leabhair COMHAR, 264 pp, €20, ISBN: 978-0993494628 It must be a daunting challenge to write the first critical monograph on a major writer, a challenge compounded when that writer has a publishing history stretching back over a half-century and involving a wide range of genres, styles ‑ more than few of them hybrid ‑ and settings from the Crusades to Africa and from Beckett’s wasteland to seventeenth century Puritan Boston. That is, however, exactly what Máirtín Coilféir has undertaken in this study of Alan Titley, quite likely the most important writer in Irish since the death of Máirtín Ó Cadhain in 1970 and one often discussed in terms of the “difficulty” of his language and his frequent experiments with narrative, style, and tone. Coilféir also had to take into account audience expectations of what an introductory study and overview of Titley’s work in its entirety should be. Such a book could have been written earlier in his career, but at this point, and with no other books on the subject to fall back on, any such attempt to engage with the whole output might well seem unwise if not impossible, producing no more than a mix of short descriptive sections and some sweeping generalisations. Titley has, after all, published novels, plays, short story collections, poems, pamphlets on diverse subjects, collections of essays in Irish and English and books for children. And that’s not to mention a weekly column that has run in The Irish Times since 2003. Instead of attempting to include everything, Coilféir provides a brief chronological survey of what he sees as distinct stages in Titley’s career over the decades. Thus we have “saothar luath (1966-1970)”, “borradh agus fás (1971-1979)”, “airc chun úire (1980-1989)”, “mórscríbhneoir, mórshaothair (1990-1999)”, and “páistí, polaitíocht, drámaí, dánta (2000-2016)”. The neat breakdown by decade might create some uneasiness, but Coilféir is well aware of the difficulty and takes into consideration that any such scheme is arbitrary and will involve anticipations, backtrackings and overlaps. On the whole, however, he makes a convincing case that for Titley at least this kind of outline gives us a useful and surprisingly non-reductive way of making our way through an enormous and diverse body of work. One could argue that an appropriate critical methodology might provide another and better roadmap through the material. Such an approach would, of course, be anathema to Titley himself, one of whose…

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