Thursday 22 March 2018

Review: The Dubliner Diaries by Trevor White

Lilliput, €9.99, Hardback

There are precious few books that read better from the back, but this is one of them.

That's because, despite its ambition to read as a waspish chronicle of a heady decade, all its interesting bits are related to the names that Trevor White dropped in a near decade of publishing The Dubliner magazine. And they're all faithfully indexed.

Well, not all actually. Tiger Woods doesn't earn a single mention in the index or anywhere else either. You might remember that The Dubliner libelled Woods and his then missus. The subsequent pay-out nearly brought the magazine to its knees four years ago.

It's an odd omission, because if White's tenure will be remembered for anything it will be for that. And well it might, because The Dubliner bunkered Tiger long before it was fashionable and certainly before it was profitable.

New York-based White, a well-spoken and well-bred young man, developed homesickness in 2000 and came home with a dream of publishing a glossy magazine for discerning young things about town. Nobody told him that if you want to make a small fortune in publishing you should start with a large one.

He mortgaged the house he bought before the boom, got himself an editor, Emily Hourican, and a shabby office above the International Bar in Wicklow Street. After a gruelling breech birth, The Dubliner had a suitably glitzy launch in City Hall. Anyone who thought they were anyone turned up. And Sophie Dahl, who is someone, turned up too.

If even a handful of those free-loaders had morphed into regular readers, the circulation graph might have got its designer arse off the floor. Trevor had an ambition to pull in 20,000 upmarket punters a month, but only 4,000 or so were interested enough to put their hands in their pockets and The Dubliner lurched from crisis to crisis.

But some crises are better fun than others and despite being initially ignored, White's persistence bore exotic fruit and the magazine grew a voice and earned a reputation of sorts. Niche is the word for it, over-used as it is.

While very much a magazine of its time, it was rarely shallow, trite and only occasionally a celebrity whore (well, bimbos and sex do sell, a point White acknowledges).

Occasionally, too, he commissioned an article which practised cynics like me could sniff out as a DOA from the other side of the Liffey. But his quirky, sophisticated tastes and inquisitive nature made for a magazine that fizzed more often than it flopped.

To his credit you'll find only a handful of references in the index to Celtic Tiger cathedrals like Renards, Lillies and Krystle. The Dubliner's journey through the Dublin of the noughties was generally to cooler places and had White encountering more interesting people, though Tiger Woods wasn't one of them.

It was The Dubliner's restaurant reviews which gave the magazine its most significant anchor. These often withering critiques grew into well-thumbed 100 Best guides and though they never gained iconic status, they did gain certain notoriety.

Les Frères Jacques ("We get the impression that the waiter was doing us a favour by turning up") barred him, and the Unicorn ("all style and no substance") accused him of confusing chicken with duck.

And though he's been labelled ''a sick upper-class prat" (nice one, Eamo) and a pompous twit, he does a neat line in self-deprecation and honesty, always a winning combination.

There was the time, which he faithfully recounts, when he inadvertently punched the speed dial on his mobile while having sex "with a total stranger". What if, he wonders, the accidental recipient -- Aengus Fanning, the editor of the Sunday Independent -- had been listening for the eight minutes and 17 seconds?

Eight minutes and 17 seconds? A good thing White had more stamina when it came to publishing.

After the guts of 10 years, he sold to VIP publisher Michael O'Doherty and you'll now find The Dubliner snug between the covers of the Evening Herald every Thursday. It's a different beast altogether, but none the worse for that.

Twelve months ago, White announced that he had "retired", whatever that means, and he signs-off this diary by announcing the birth of his son, Benjamin, as if opening the door on a new chapter in his life while firmly closing the door on another.

Perhaps not the faithful or incisive chronicle of the Tiger years that it might like to think it is, and there is a lot more fluff picked from the navel here than penetrating truths plucked from the ether, but it's a smart and engaging read for all that.

Frank Coughlan is Deputy Managing Editor of Independent Newspapers

Irish Independent

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