Friday 14 December 2018

Radio Review: Listeners can't judge a book by the coverage

Eilis O'Hanlon

Now into its fifth season, RTE Radio 1's The Book Show has handed itself over to writers such as Eoin Colfer and Liz Nugent to explore their own literary passions.

This week was the turn of Belfast author Garrett Carr, who last year published a book on the Border, a topical subject in light of the ongoing Brexit negotiations. His first guest was Michael Hughes, whose novel Country reimagines the Iliad as if it was set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles rather than ancient Greece, with Achilles as an IRA sniper and Hector and Paris as British soldiers. It was, Carr enthused, a "brilliant idea", and indeed it is.

But surely it could also have been acknowledged that the parallels between the Trojan War and Northern Ireland were pioneered originally by Ulster poets, not least Seamus Heaney, whose famous line about making "hope and history rhyme" in The Cure at Troy was regularly quoted by Bill Clinton during the peace process, and Michael Longley, whose poem Ceasefire, published the day before the IRA's 1994 cessation, also cast Achilles as a terrorist?

"Is it ever right to physically destroy another human being in the service of an idea?" wondered Hughes, while admitting that he didn't have the answer: "It's not for me to say. I don't know if it's ever right or not." Instead he said his job was to "let the characters on both sides have their say", and that's fair enough for a novelist.

On the other hand, whether it's ever right to kill for an idea is not really the question, is it? It's too big. The only question that can ever be answered is whether it's right to kill this particular human being for this particular idea at this particular time, and that question probably can be answered. Still, it was a thought-provoking programme, filled with ideas, and that's as much as can be asked.

It was a good week for Northern writers, as Belfast native Anna Burns won this year's Man Booker Prize for her own Troubles novel, Milkman - an unexpected result, according to bookies, though it was predicted by fellow novelist Donal Ryan on that morning's Today with Sean O'Rourke.

BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster even interrupted the interminable wrangling over Brexit to fete Burns, the first author from the North to win the prestigious prize. The wonderfully named Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado, co-editor of an anthology of Northern women's writing, didn't get nearly long enough to talk, but she did get longer than Sinead Crowley, RTE's arts and media correspondent, on Wednesday's Morning Ireland.

She spoke for fewer than 30 seconds before Bryan Dobson declared: "Not much time, I'm afraid, to say much more." It was hardly worth her time coming in.

Bram Stoker's grand-nephew, Dacre, got 20 minutes on Wednesday's Ryan Tubridy Show to discuss his new book, a prequel to Dracula. The interview was huge fun, but Tubs sounds so enthusiastic all the time it's starting to sound a tad insincere.

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