Tuesday 13 November 2018

Review: The Dubliner Diaries by Trevor White

Lilliput, €9.99

NO COMPROMISE: Trevor White kept magazine's quality
NO COMPROMISE: Trevor White kept magazine's quality

Of all the places I associate with the now lamented Celtic Tiger, it must be standing in the offices of the neophyte Dubliner magazine, overlooking the glorious city intersection of Wicklow Street and South William Street, as it stretched up towards St Stephen's Green, with prosperous and trendy citizens busily flitting about or sitting outside cafes.

(They are still doing so, by the way, so all is not lost.)

The desks of the editor and publisher, Trevor White, looked down at all this energy and, visiting as I often did, in my carefree days, I got a real sense that they were catching all this energy, in a way that few publications or media outlets had done before. Where was RTE during these years, for example? Our national broadcaster currently does doom and gloom with relish, but not the sexy energy and style of an eight-year boom and youthquake.

The Dubliner was above the Comedy Club and the International Bar, and creaking up the stairs to the magazine's top-floor office, you'd pass signs which said "nearly there" to egg you on. It was a memorable metaphor for a brave and innovative project, which was, indeed, "nearly there", but ultimately failed because of poor sales and ad revenue, the bane of all publications, especially now.

It was not for the lack of quality, that was for sure, and sometimes the quality was nearly too good, as in witty and cerebral arts coverage, classy original photography and often obscure topics. Indeed, I almost wanted to tell Trevor: "Put some dumbed-down idiot on the cover, for goodness sake, you're going to go out of business."

Thankfully, he did not compromise and today the Dubliner is a weekly supplement accompanying the Evening Herald, where it retains all of its original energy and often irritating, opinionated qualities.

But the reality is that, on its own, the magazine was too ambitious for a small market such as Ireland, and in the same period, other titles such as The Village and Magill, which I edited myself, have more or less ceased publication. As Trevor writes in this excellent and revealing diary of his time at the magazine, the Irish public are not so interested in a "magazine of ideas" and there is a "downright contempt for the same among some media professionals". The most accurate picture of the culture is not literary fiction, he continues, "but the women who write inconsequential novels about girls who dream of love, celebrity or a house on Shrewsbury Road. It is strange, I remember thinking, that rampant individualism might lead to such blandness and conformity. That was not a happy conclusion".

He is absolutely right and, quite honestly, there sometimes seems to have been a more interesting creative energy going on during the pre-boom years than during the property-made, conservative materialism of our recent binge, and its aftermath. I would go further than Trevor: the three great topics of national conversation in this country are politics (as in Dail politics, not political ideas, heaven forbid), the GAA and RTE personalities. After that, it doesn't leave much room for other, fresher, more foreign ideas. But credit to Trevor and his team, especially editor Emily Hourican, for trying to explore them.

Inside the cover of his book is a line-up of all the original covers and many of them are very memorable. This might be because they also often depicted beautiful and semi-naked women. I have kept a few copies (not for this reason, necessarily), but simply because the production, content and writing made it impossible for a magazine fan such as myself to ditch them.

However, you wouldn't need to have read a single issue to enjoy Trevor's dairy of the project -- a hilarious, revealing and often bitchy account with as wide and varied a range of characters as you'll get anywhere in Irish life. They're all here: celebrities, sportspeople, mavericks, models, oddballs, politicians and other journalists.

For once, a cover blurb is accurate, with Paul Howard, aka Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, declaring the account "one of the funniest and most astute pieces of writing yet on the national mid-life crisis we briefly called the Celtic Tiger". He is right and the beauty of the book is that it is not some turgid sociological tome about "our society" and how did we get there, but, instead, a week by week, gossipy dissection of the Tiger as it ate, drank, preened and hung out with supermodels. (Trevor did get me to accompany Sophie Dahl to a Temple Bar party, which was kind of him).

If I was to urge you to buy one book for Christmas, this would be it; an ideal present. You will fly through it, from Eamon Dunphy looking as "wrinkled and sour as an old prune", to Michael McDowell, as "a newly rich housewife, bragging about all the good deeds she does for charity".

As they say in LA, Trevor might never eat lunch in this town again, but then he never wanted to eat lunch in the first place. And you should see what he says about our food.

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