Sunday 18 March 2018

McCann - 'a tendency to go gooey'

John Boland

Colum McCann is well known for lauding other writers in book-cover blurbs, but Edmund Gordon is not impressed. Reviewing McCann's latest novel, TransAtlantic, in the London Review of Books, the Trinity-educated Gordon describes the Irish author as "the high priest of high praise, always handy with a blessing" and he furnishes some examples of these superlative-laden blurbs, which, he thinks, tend to "lapse into mumbo-jumbo".

Nor is he much impressed by McCann's fiction, in which he discerns a similar "tendency to go gooey over things", and he's very severe on TransAtlantic, which was longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize and which I reviewed, mostly admiringly, in these pages.

But Gordon finds little to admire in "gushing descriptions" of landscapes, in "bombast" and in "glib checklists" of Northern Ireland atrocities, while McCann's treatment of real-life historical figures amounts, he feels, to no more than a "waxwork display" by a novelist "obsessed with famous men".

Indeed, the "heroic bluster and lachrymose wonderment" in McCann's portrayal of 19th-Century abolitionist Frederick Douglass "make for one of the most insufferable characters I've ever encountered".

Much has been written recently about the decline of the hatchet job in contemporary book reviewing, but Gordon's evisceration merits a place alongside John Banville's demolition of Ian McEwan's Saturday in the New York Review of Books and Terry Castle's wither-ing putdown of Sylvia Plath some weeks ago in the same journal.


If you go along to the Dublin Book Fair in the Freemasons' Hall, Molesworth Street, next weekend, you can get a signed copy of Seamus Heaney's 2005 tribute to Czeslaw Milosz, The Door Stands Open, for €1,200.

Mind you, Cathac Books is offering another copy of this limited edition for €750, though an online London bookseller is requesting £1,850 for it.

I learn that from Abe Books, which also discloses that a signed first edition of the late poet's debut Faber collection, Death of a Naturalist, is now being offered by a US bookseller for £4,820.

Irish Independent

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