Books

Thursday 24 July 2014

A few wrong turns while homing in on 'Dublin' writers

Published 13/07/2013|04:00

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Brendan Lynch's enthusiasm for a vanished literary Dublin has already been evident in Prodigals and Geniuses: The Writers and Artists of Dublin's Baggotonia and in Parsons Bookshop, a chatty if overlong homage to the quirky little bookshop that once resided on Baggot Street bridge and was overseen by the kindly Mary King and her more reticent employer, May O'Flaherty.

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Parsons closed its doors 24 years ago, but its chronicler is clearly of the opinion that readers can't hear too much about the place – it not only gets a chapter to itself at the end of his new book, but is frequently mentioned throughout his accounts of the 40 'Dublin authors' he has chosen to feature.

I put 'Dublin authors' in quotation marks because quite a few of the writers featured here were born outside the capital – or, in the case of JP Donleavy, outside the country.

Indeed, Donleavy is a curious inclusion because, even though The Ginger Man is rightly regarded as a quintessential Dublin novel, its American author has spent most of his lengthy Irish sojourn outside the capital, and his image is firmly that of the tweedy country squire rather than the city slicker.

He's also the book's only living author, which prompts one to wonder at the exclusion of other notable writers who are still with us, including such eminences as Brendan Kennelly and Seamus Heaney, who've lived in the capital for so long that they've become honorary Dubliners.

The book is chattily informative, though it doesn't always get its facts right.

For instance, James Plunkett, who was married to my mother's sister, didn't spend "his final years" in Kilmacanogue but in Bray, and there's no mention of Rockfield Drive off the Whitehall Road, where he lived for the best part of two decades and where he wrote Strumpet City.

And some of the highlighted addresses in the chapter headings are misleading. Maeve Binchy is linked to 1 Pembroke Road, which is where she taught for a few years at Miss Meredith's school, but surely it would have been more pertinent to associate her with Dalkey, where she was born and spent the last decades of her life.

The book is handsomely printed and produced and has a wealth of fine photos by Johnny Bambury, but it invites comparison with Vivien Igoe's A Literary Guide to Dublin, which was published in 1994 and features 33 of Lynch's 40 writers along with 58 others who were either born in Dublin, lived in the city or were significant visitors.

Igoe's guide isn't as flamboyant as Lynch's, but it's quietly engaging and it won't take up as much room in the literary pilgrim's satchel or backpack.

John Boland

Irish Independent

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