Essays: OK, Let's Do Your Stupid Idea
Penguin Ireland €15.99
We are indeed living through the era of 'the self'. It seems like ever since Emilie Pine's Notes to Self swooped to victory in 2018, publishing in Ireland has been making more and more space in its roster for deep inward explorations that channel an elegant literary bent.
Central to this non-fiction boom has been the essay. For a word that makes many shudder with memories of classroom assignments, it has been one of the most illuminating arenas in which to read excellent writers sorting out their own worlds.
The essay format is malleable and adaptable while remaining robust. It can bolster any thematic backdrop, from grief and memory, to health and politics, history and nature.
In his debut, Irish Times feature writer and pop critic Patrick Freyne shows us that the essay can also be a realm for mayhem and absurdity.
What we know about Tara Street's jester is that reality is never something to get in the way of a pop-culture review.
His brand has been built around a zany, surrealist tone where conventional commentary can be jettisoned for comedic flights of fancy, all while keeping a loose hold on the subject at hand.
This collection is rooted in that comedic style.
He doesn't hit his bullseye every time, you find, but when he does, there are moments in these entries that can leave you creased with laughter.
There is an account of a parachute jump taken at the age of 19 that is so well staged and paced out that when the crux of the humour fires into life, you are helpless. More generally, Freyne's radar is precision-honed to find the madness within the mundane.
None of this is particularly surprising. What Freyne agnostics will most take note of here is how effective a vehicle his clowning proves to be for matters of great intimacy and weight.
It's that strange happy/sad register that we all seem to find compelling whenever we encounter it in writing or music or drama.
Freyne goes back in time and mines his ramshackle early years with a mixture of self-bemusement and even affection, as if he's forgiving himself for being a bit crummy back then.
Whether growing up an army brat (his father was stationed at the Curragh Camp), touring as part of late-1990s indie trio National Prayer Breakfast, or down and out in Bremen on a scallywags' summer, he observes the younger Patrick as preposterous decisions are made and corners are cut, exhibiting an outdated version of himself for all to see.
Gradually, as he circles down towards family memories and those earliest Polaroids from formative years, the guffaws die down and something much more tangible comes through.
He is frank (mostly to himself) about struggles with mental health, childlessness at middle-age, and loss. Freyne's father emerges as the figure in his life tied closely to ideas of reassurance and security for him. When he is working through such things, it is done with a lightness of touch that is quietly effective in how it amplifies hidden resonances in the writing.
This is an interesting and fresh addition to Ireland's essay-writing movement.