Saturday 7 December 2019

Blaming critics for the state of Irish fiction

Are Irish novelists confronting the society in which they live or are they mired in the past? Such is the debate that has recently been raging (spluttering, actually) in columns, letters pages and radio programmes. I've even contributed it to myself.

But Joseph O'Connor is having none of this nonsense and he blames us critics for it. Writing in the Irish Times, he advises the "bitter denouncers" of contemporary Irish fiction to visit their local bookstores, where apparently they'll find "dozens of stories about the era through which we have just passed". He doesn't name any of these, though I can only think of one outstanding Irish novel of this decade that fits the bill -- William King's Leaving Ardglass.

Nor is he any less vague when he assures us that Irish authors are "among the best in the world", that "fascinating things are happening in Ireland's recent fiction" and that all would be right in the best of all possible worlds if the "moaners" saw fit to "quit bellyaching and get involved".

Is that the job of a critic? Joe seems to think it is, suggesting that if "such sages gave support rather than an ice-bucket in the face, we wouldn't have Irish bookstores going out of business". That's certainly a novel proposal -- criticism as the PR arm of the bookselling trade. However, Joe also piously insists that "it is vital for writers to be criticised", though presumably only if such criticism comes in the form of unadulterated praise -- otherwise it's a clear case of begrudgery.


Elsewhere, those arbiters of cultural standards, Tyrone Productions, are asking the public to vote for Ireland's Greatest Ever Person. This is for an upcoming RTE television series and you've 40 names from which to choose, though only five are writers -- Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, John B Keane and Seamus Heaney.

So no Swift, Shaw, Synge, O'Casey or Beckett -- though you can happily vote for Ronan Keating and Louis Walsh. O brave new world.

Irish Independent

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