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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Scripts and Prescriptions

Benjamin Keatinge
The Weight of Compassion and other essays, by Eoin O’Brien, Lilliput Press, 262 pp, €25, ISBN: 978-1843513889 Admirers of Samuel Beckett will instantly recognise the iconic photo on the cover of Eoin O’Brien’s collection of essays, published by Lilliput Press, which includes four distinctive essays on the Nobel-prize winner from Foxrock. The photo was the fruit of O’Brien’s collaboration with photographer David Davidson for their 1986 volume The Beckett Country (Black Cat Press in association with Faber and Faber) and it features father and son walking on a snowy road-to-nowhere in the Dublin mountains, somewhere near Glencree, a possible “ideal setting for Godot”, as O’Brien suggests. The strength of O’Brien’s monumental presentation and exposition of “the Beckett country” back in 1986 was how the photos by Davidson (allied with some archival materials) were situated very precisely by him in relation to Beckett’s oeuvre so that the book clearly demonstrated how topographical image and textual evocation were aligned. For example, in respect of the photo of man and boy near Glencree, the precise passage from Worstward Ho is cited beneath the image and the connection is unmistakable: Hand in hand with equal plod they go. In the free hands ‑ no. Free empty hands. Backs turned both bowed with equal plod they go. The child hand raised to reach the holding hand. Hold the old holding hand. Hold and be held. Plod on and never recede. Slowly with never a pause plod on and never recede. Backs turned. Both bowed. Joined by held joining hands. Plod on as one. One shade. Another shade. O’Brien’s painstaking work in situating Beckett’s writing in relation to some quite precise Irish landscapes can be said to have alerted Beckett scholars, not only to Beckett’s Irishness, but also to certain obsessive features in what Seán Kennedy has termed Beckett’s “topographical imagination”. In case there was any doubt that “the Molloy country”, through which Molloy and Jacques Moran stumble in Beckett’s breakthrough postwar novel Molloy (1951), is situated within a fifteen-mile radius of Foxrock village, O’Brien’s The Beckett Country obliges us with plenty of proofs in both word and image for the entire Beckett oeuvre. Indeed, apart from the Irishness of Beckett’s “topographical imagination”, The Beckett Country also serves to affirm an observation made by John Banville that Beckett “is nothing if not an old-fashioned landscape writer” in the mode of Thomas Hardy, an observation which Beckett scholars would do well to follow up on. In The Weight of Compassion, O’Brien…

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