Sunday 18 February 2018

How three outstanding writers see our world

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

I BELONG to that waning generation which thinks writers still matter. Let's look at three: Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize novelist, who died last week; John Banville, who deserves the Nobel Prize but meantime must be lugubriously pleased to add a Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award to his many honours; and Fintan O'Toole, who celebrated 25 years as a columnist with an Irish Times supplement last week.

All three are part of my mental furniture. Sometimes they provide a soft couch into which I sink with pleasure. More often I bang into their sharp edges. Today I want to briefly shower them with praise and blame and recommend you read them.

Equally briefly: I judge the three by classical standards, that is standards picked up from great writers which have stood the test of time. Broadly speaking, like Dr Johnson, I believe the proper end of writing is "to enable the readers better to enjoy life or better to endure it". (Anyone who adds the smug banality "the best do both, of course" is a langer.)

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