Quick! What Would You Read?
Writing is tough, but Annie Dillard doesn’t put on a performance of her struggle to transmute experience into literature. She is a writer who believes – how old-fashioned! – in the possibility of truly powerful literature and its urgent importance, in reaching towards an imagined reader, and touching a real one.
Utopian imaginings were alive and well in eighteenth century Ireland and could be found not just in pamphlets but in vision poems and travellers’ tales, speeches, manifestos and proclamations and the practical improving projects of philanthropic societies like the Dublin Society (later the RDS).
The Most Distressful Country
In the mid-1830s a liberal Hungarian aristocrat and writer made a journey through Ireland. Inspired by Daniel O’Connell’s campaigning, he wrote that England, while being viewed by the world as great and upholding the rights of man, was now ‘trembling before the country she has enslaved’.
A compelling and thoroughly researched novel focuses on the experiences of the refugees and the clients of people traffickers as they are ‘processed’ through the British asylum system, often towards a bleak conclusion, while struggling to maintain some dignity and hope.
A Life of Noticing
The mastery of American English which we associate with Richard Ford’s fiction – the subtle not-saying, the deflection of painful emotional realities into half-said or half-seen things – is abundantly present in a memoir in which he recalls and recreates the lives of his parents.
Sweet and Sour
The trajectory of Molly Keane’s life was different from most other people’s and most other writers’: the tragedy – the early death of her husband ‑came early and the triumph late. But what a triumph – three sparkling and successful late novels written in her late seventies and eighties.
At Home in Exile
Czesław Miłosz may perhaps be understood as the saint of paradox. He was a man who documented his century by standing apart from it, a poet who wrote in Polish while living in France and America, a sensualist who embraced the spiritual, a man who reached home by running away.
The Bully and the ‘Beast’
Shouting and tantrums are common in Fleet Street newsrooms, but it is only at the ‘Daily Mail’ that swearing and abuse have been elevated to a culture. Its editor makes no secret of this behaviour, apparently believing that ‘shouting creates energy and energy creates great headlines’.