Friday 23 February 2018

Irish writers who just can't get enough of each other

'The whole book is absolutely f**king brilliant." That's Roddy Doyle's considered opinion of Emma Donoghue's Room, which he named as one of his books of the year in the Guardian and which gave him the feeling "I've never read anything like this before". By contrast, Joseph O'Connor's Ghost Light didn't merit an expletive, being merely "absolutely brilliant".

Irish writers are certainly partial to other Irish writers, with John Banville (right) in the same pages enthusing about Seamus Heaney's latest collection, Human Chain, a book in which "this most affirmative and celebratory of poets" meditated on life "in all its fleeting sweetness". In this he was backed up by Colm Toibin, who thought that Human Chain contained some of Heaney's best work, "elegiac, beautifully controlled and crafted".

Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Irish historian Roy Foster was no less smitten with the Heaney volume, which he thought "dazzling" and "full of three-word lines that light up like the flick of a switch", though he was equally impressed with Derek Mahon's An Autumn Wind, which was a "tour de force". He also loved Louis MacNeice's Letters, the Penguin Book of Irish Poetry and Greg Baxter's "incensed, hilarious and scabrous" A Preparation for Death, which was "etched with an infuriating honesty".

Irish poet Bernard O'Donoghue, also writing in the TLS, thought Human Chain "a masterpiece, even by Heaney's standards: wonderfully elegiac, yet positive, as it realises the preciousness and evanescence of human physical contact", while Toibin's The Empty Family was a "marvellous story collection", its title story "another stage in the moving repatriation of Toibin's art".

However, in the same magazine poet Paul Muldoon bracingly bucked the aren't-we-Irish-great trend with a list that focused on books by his "dear colleagues at Princeton", one of whom was "a beautiful stylist", while another had written a "truly exhilarating" study of Yeats. That should make for cordial relations and an extra glass of port at the Princeton academic dinner table.

Irish Independent

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