Monday 19 March 2018

Strange -- it's Irish writers who pen the Great American Novels

Writing in the current issue of The Stinging Fly, its editor Declan Meade notes that in recent years some of the most celebrated Irish novelists have "effectively written American novels."

He's probably thinking of Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, a couple of the US-set Roddy Doyle novels and Emma Donoghue's Room, and it's certainly true that many of our contemporary writers no longer feel obliged to confine themselves to traditionally "Irish" subjects.

Meade advances the idea that "the American story can still offer a sense of hope and opportunity that the current situation in Ireland has all but destroyed", though it would be interesting if one or two of our more talented novelists turned a beady eye on the Celtic Tiger, its venal and/or deluded participants and its calamitous aftermath. Or to put it another way, where's our Great Gatsby or even our Bonfire of the Vanities?

Anyway, Meade advances these notions to justify putting together a New York issue of his always absorbing magazine, leading off with a rhapsodic piece by Colum McCann entitled 'My ugly lovely town', in which the Manhattan-based author recalls his early years in the city, coming home "every night on the D train, heroic with beer and cocaine and youth".

Some of the stories and poems here aren't so centrally concerned with New York, but there's a lovely endpiece by novelist Mary Morrissy in which she goes searching for the New York nursing home where Maeve Brennan ended her days -- the pretext for her quest being a novel she's not sure she'll get round to writing about the wonderfully gifted Brennan.

In the meantime, Morrissy, who's currently writer-in-residence at University College Dublin, has completed a novel about another real person -- The Rising of Bella Casey, which is due soon and concerns the sister of the great Irish playwright, a man who, like Maeve Brennan, found himself in lonely exile from the country that inspired so much of his work.

And Brennan is also occupying the thoughts of Emma Donoghue, who has embarked on a play about her.

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