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 The Great Escape

The Great Escape

Harry Clifton
Horseman pass by!, by Michel Déon, translated by Clíona Ní Riordáin, Lilliput Press, 168 pp, ISBN: 978-1843517085 Years ago, I gave a lift to a German girl hitchhiking through the wilder parts of Achill island. Besotted with the early Yeats of “Inisfree”, “The Stolen Child” and “The Song of Wandering Aengus”, hating her own society, she was making ends meet on Achill by childminding and work in an old people’s home, while writing her own fairytales in between, and frequenting the pubs. Later, as I discovered, she had taken up with someone local and was renovating an old cottage, intending to stay. My own connection with Achill at the time was a residence in the cottage of the German writer Heinrich Böll, who had made a second home there after the Second World War, and whose Irish Journal I was reminded of while reading this memoir of  life in Ireland by the French writer Michel Déon. “There is nothing more embarrassing,” Böll has himself say at one point in Irish Journal, “than when someone likes you for the wrong reasons.” Does Déon like Ireland for the right or the wrong reasons? Should we, in our relentless self-absorption, congratulate ourselves yet again on someone else from outside finding us charming? Most writers who settle in Ireland are in flight from something, whether Heinrich Böll from the realities of postwar Europe or tax exiles like Frederick Forsyth in Wicklow, not to mention political exiles like the poet Khodasevich in Donaghadee, briefly, in 1922 (“I would rather be in Siberia!”) or the Jewish George Clare, author of Last Waltz in Vienna, in 1938. The search for roots has also played its part, with mixed results – director John Huston’s love affair with the same east Galway region as Michel Déon, or Jean Kennedy Smith’s less than diplomatic frankness at how boring she found Ireland as US ambassador, how glad she was to leave. The right or the wrong reasons? Böll, who raised the question, seems to have recreated Ireland in the German mind as a place of lyrical refuge from excessive reason, dehumanising overorganisation. There is something of this in Michel Déon’s book as well, though with a literary rather than political emphasis. What both texts share, in a literary sense, is the absence of a narrative. Ireland, for Déon, is not a rounded experience of arrival, life over time in a changing society, and departure. For…



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