Saluting progress in Ireland and the contributions of artists to liberalisation is not the same kind of action as analysis or evaluation. Can critics, while retaining the idiom of ‘excellence’, find themselves merely ventriloquising the boosterism of marketing managers and administrators?
On a jaunt to Ayrshire, Seamus Heaney came upon the Robert Burns Visitor Experience. When friends joked that there might soon be a Heaney Experience he suggested ‘a few churns and a confession box’. Roy Foster’s impressive new study provides an alternative route into that experience.
Niamh Campbell’s ‘This Happy’ finds coordinates for today’s slumlords in Ireland’s colonial past. She also edges her readers to the idea that the attempts of the socially dispossessed to transcend class belittlement through the corridors of education might be based on an illusion.
Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s writing in her first prose work is as compelling and accomplished as in her best poetry. The book reveals her as a writer who is willing to take risks, to push back boundaries, refusing to let herself be hemmed in by the demands of genre, gender or tradition.
The narrator of Alice Lyons’s novel, an American of Irish stock raised in New Jersey, finds on a second visit to the auld sod that she has to learn to speak the language ‑ which is not as easy as she thought, as the true native language, she finds, is not Irish but silence.
In “The Changing Mountain”, his recent essay on the mutable parameters of elegy (Poetry London Issue 96) Stephen Sexton notes “the imperceptible change a photograph, say, undergoes when someone depicted in it has died; how these images seem, somehow, utterly changed without having changed at all”.
When he agreed to allow her to be his biographer Samuel Beckett told Deirdre Bair that his friends would help her and his enemies would also surely seek her out. She was to find that while Beckett was honourable if elusive, it could be hard to tell his friends and enemies apart.
Out of bleak contexts and grey ingredients, Conor O’Callaghan creates a spare, emotionally fraught story of home, homelessness and unsettlement. Yet there is no absence of emotion: the approach is to strip away the fat – to permit a wide view, while withholding much by way of detail.