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.
Suppose a Sentence, by Brian Dillon, Fitzcarraldo Editions, 200 pp, £10.99, ISBN: 978-1913097011 In their spring 2009 “Deception” issue, the arts and culture quarterly Cabinet published an open letter from the Irish writer Brian Dillon to his editors at frieze. Dillon came clean on having perpetrated a minor (though not unimpressive) literary fraud. After a vain search through Robert Burton’s An Anatomy of Melancholy (first published in 1621) for an epigraph to his essay on charlatanry, “Is F for Fake?”, it struck Dillon “that with a little care regarding seventeenth century syntax and a few quaint capital letters”, he could contrive the quotation he needed. With Wellesian brass-neck, he mocked up the epigraph and attributed it to Burton. No one was wise to his “egregious deceit”. Not the first nor the last time Dillon would draw breath from another writer. In a recent appreciation of the music critic Ian Penman he wrote of “writers who rush at the empty page or screen without a thought for precursors, who don’t need to hear the intimate whisper of influence in order to get started. I’m not one of that independent breed.” Without Roland Barthes, Dillon says in his new book, Suppose a Sentence, “I would not have found the courage to start amassing sentences and paragraphs of my own.” Dillon’s early essays in frieze, Cabinetand Dublin Review, the book-length works In the Dark Room (2005), Tormented Hope (2009), Sanctuary(2011) and The Great Explosion (2015), and several of the pieces in the essay collection Objects in This Mirror (2014) were written “avowedly under the influence of WG Sebald”. In Dillon, the intimate whisper is everywhere audible. Besides aspects of syntax, diction, setting and tone, Dillon adapted from Sebald (and the later works of Barthes) a blend of scholarly essay and discreetly impassioned memoir. In the Dark Room tells of his “complicated remembering” of childhood, adolescence, the lives and early deaths of his parents, and the final fraught abandonment, by he and his brothers, of the family home. In the opening pages of The Great Explosion: Gunpowder, the Great War, and a disaster on the Kent marshes, we see him walking the terrain in the company of his partner, their friends, and their friends’ young children, pushing a buggy, feeling a small hand in his. Then he disappears almost entirely into the archives, emerging much later, towards the story’s end, alone, in motion, tearing through webby clutches, sensing, in the gathering dark, “soon all will be lost”. Essayism (2017) found Dillon “in the wake of the disaster”….
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